Category Archives: Arrest, Detention and Deportation

Thai nightmare: Ordeal ends for migrants left for broke

Twenty-five migrant workers who claim they were duped out of hundreds of dollars by a Phnom Penh-based recruitment agency promising jobs in Thailand were repatriated yesterday after being arrested and detained by Thai authorities.

Sin Nang Young, commune chief of Banteay Meanchey province’s Poipet town – where the workers arrived yesterday – said the 25 men and women had been tricked by Best Power Co Ltd.

Best Power “ordered them to pay money to find them jobs in Thailand. But when they arrived, there were no jobs and they were arrested by Thai authorities,” she said, adding that the group had been detained for a day before being deported.

One of the workers, 27-year-old Sor Van, said the group paid $300 each on the promise of jobs in a Thai chicken factory.

“I wanted to work in Thailand and I chose the company to organise it legally,” he said.

Another worker, Sim Chan, said the 25 were arrested because the company had held onto their passports. Contact details for Best Power could not be found.

By: Sen David, The Phnom Penh Post

Terrified victims of Thai trafficking face uncertain future

For at least five years, the Andaman coast of Thailand has been the scene of some horrific abuses, mainly against ethnic Rohingyas, a Muslim minority group fleeing persecution in Myanmar, also known as Burma.

In 2009, the Thai Navy was found to be towing boats packed with Rohingyas out to sea, and leaving them to drift. Hundreds are believed to have died.

More recently Thai police and military personnel have been accused of selling Rohingyas who washed up on Thailand’s shores to human traffickers.

These abuses are in part what caused Thailand to be downgraded to the lowest rank in the annual US report on human trafficking.

Successive Thai governments have promised to stamp out this scourge.

But the recent discovery of 171 mainly Bangladeshi men being held captive in jungle camps shows how much still needs to be done.

What started as opportunistic exploitation of Rohingyas appears to have mutated into an organised slave trade.

Repeated beatings

Eighty-one of the men are now being sheltered in a local government hall in the town of Takua Pa. They sit there listlessly, some nursing ugly wounds inflicted by their captors.

At times, tears slide down their faces as they recall their ordeal, and think of homes and families in Bangladesh. They all tell very similar stories.

Eighteen year-old Abdurrahim still hobbles from a savage blow to his knee inflicted by one of his guards after he asked for more food.

Originally from Bogra, in northern Bangladesh, he told me he was trying to find work in the capital Dacca when an elderly man offered him a job paying around $6 (£3.73) a day.

He travelled with this man to Cox’s Bazaar, he said, and was taken to a small house up in the hills. There he was tied up, drugged, and woke up on board a boat. He spent seven or eight days at sea, he says, where he was repeatedly beaten.

After that, the group was unloaded on the Thai coast, and taken to a camp hidden in a mangrove forest. They gave us no food, he said. “We survived by eating leaves.”

Absar Mia is 27, from Teknaf, close to the border with Myanmar. He is married with three young children. “My heart is burning for home,” he said.

“All I think about is how I can get home, how I can see my mother again, how I can see my little boys and girl again. That’s why I’m crying.”

He described being offered a job by a man, and waiting for him on a hill near Teknaf. Suddenly he was grabbed, his hands tied, his mouth gagged. He said he struggled as he was taken out to a boat, and was beaten.

Ayub was working as an agricultural labourer in Chittagong, southeast Bangladesh, but he said the work ran out. A man suggested he go to Cox’s Bazaar. There he suddenly found himself being grabbed, tied up and forced onto a boat which he said was already crowded with people.

He repeatedly asked where they were taking him, but said the guards threatened to kill him if he did not shut up. He, too, has three children.

Tracked down

That they were rescued from their captors is due to the determination of local district chief, Manit Pianthiong. A 28-year veteran of the area, who got the chief’s job nine months ago, he is all too familiar with the human trafficking which goes on along the indented coastline of Takua Pa.

Mr Pianthiong says he is trying to curb all forms of smuggling, but he is focusing in particular on the human trade, which he says is damaging the image of the entire country.

He encourages people in fishing communities along the coast to alert him to any signs of large groups of people being held. That is how he heard about these three groups of mainly Bangladeshi men, and a few Rohingyas.

The first group of 37 was found last month. Then, on 11 October, his men tracked down another group of 53.

The last group, of 81, was surrounded in a forest camp near the road on 13 October. They had been driven by their guards from one camp to another in an attempt to evade the authorities. Mr Pianthiong believes many more were not rescued, and may have been sold.

Two of the guards have now been detained. One of them was identified by the Bangladeshis as the most brutal of their captors, a man they called Keke.

Whether this man, and his bosses, are brought to justice, depends on the government in Bangkok.

Illegal immigrants

Mr Pianthiong said he wants to go after the trafficking kingpins in the region, people with powerful connections. But that would require him to get much stronger backing, and so far that is not happening.

Senior figures in the police and the social welfare ministry are resisting his efforts to have all the Bangladeshi men classified as victims of trafficking.

The second group of 53 has already been given that status, which gives them proper support and shelter, and would allow them to go back to Bangladesh quickly.

However, the police are talking about reversing that decision. Instead, they want then to be jailed as illegal immigrants.

It is difficult to know why they want this outcome, for people who have all the appearance of victims.

Perhaps it is to avoid having to admit that trafficking continues in Thailand. Perhaps it is because they are reluctant to go after the trafficking kingpins.

The result, though, could be disastrous for the Bangladeshis. People have been known to be stuck in Thai immigration prisons for many years. In the case of Rohingyas, some were actually sold back to human traffickers.

How Thailand handles the case of these men will surely be a test of its declared willingness to turn its back on a shameful record of trafficking, and take meaningful action to end the trade in people.

By: Jonathan Head, BBC News

53 Migrants Detained After Thai Trafficking Bust

RANGOON — Scores of refugees are in detention after being rescued by Thailand’s anti-human trafficking police from a rubber plantation just north of Phuket in Thailand’s Phang Nga province.

The 53 men were found by police in an early morning raid on Saturday. Two male Thai nationals have been arrested on charges of human trafficking.

Many of the victims were Rohingya Muslims who lived in refugee camps in Bangladesh after fleeing communal violence and other forms of persecution in western Burma’s Arakan State. Some of the victims, however, said that they were from Bangladesh.

The group was reportedly intercepted by human traffickers after setting off by boat to seek jobs in Muslim-majority Malaysia.

Htoo Chit, executive director of Thailand-based migrant rights group Foundation for Education and Development, met the trafficking victims in a Phang Nga detention center.

“When I went to meet them,” said Htoo Chit, “some of them showed me their cards from UNHCR [the United Nations refugee agency], which prove that they are from Myanmar [Burma]. They moved to the Bangladesh border because they could stay there as refugees, as they had many difficulties [in Burma].”

The men were taken into police custody at around 4 am on Saturday morning, he said, adding that another group of about 30 refugees were also discovered and detained on the same day.

Thirty-seven people—including an unknown number of women—were detained earlier this month in a similar operation.

Most of the victims will remain in police custody until they can be repatriated, said Htoo Chit, but those who have identified themselves as Rohingya may face longer detention as they are not citizens of either Burma or Bangladesh.

Victims said that they had initially left Bangladesh on a small boat, after being promised jobs in Malaysia by an employment broker. The risky voyage across the Andaman Sea is common this time of year, as the monsoon season winds die down and waters are less volatile.

The journey can be deadly nonetheless; many migrants and refugees die en route as the small, poorly equipped boats frequently capsize or run out of supplies. Those that complete the journey run other risks, such as being intercepted by human traffickers.

Some of the victims detained on Saturday told Htoo Chit that they were transferred from their small boat to a bigger one, which idled in the sea waiting for the refugees to arrive.

“They told me that it took them 19 days to get from Bangladesh to Thailand. They had to stop several times along the way. They spent five days on a small Thai Island, and then they went to the plantation where they were supposed to be taken by car to Malaysia,” he said.

While the dangerous voyage has become increasingly common over the past two years—after communal violence tore apart communities, claimed hundreds of lives and displaced more than 100,000 people—Saturday’s incident had some alarming distinctions.

At least one victim said that he was neither an asylum seeker nor an economic refugee. A man wishing to be referred to simply as Mohamed told Htoo Chit that his hands were bound and he was forced to get on the boat, indicating that some of the victims may have been kidnapped.

Other media reports have cited similar accounts. Agence France-Presse cited an anonymous Thai official saying that, “Some of them were knocked out with anesthetic and taken to the boat, some were tricked … but they did not intend to come to Thailand.”

Htoo Chit described the victims, who still face an indeterminate detention in the crowded Thai facility, as malnourished and weak.

“All of them look very tired, like their bodies have not had enough food,” he said. “They were lying on the floor when we got there.”

More than 140,000 people, mostly stateless Rohingya Muslims, were displaced by several rounds of communal riots that began in Arakan State in June 2012. Most are still living in crowded displacement camps where they are systematically denied access to basic health care, education and other resources. Chronically dire conditions for displaced persons have led many to flee again; some seek asylum in Bangladesh, while many others head south to seek refuge in Malaysia.

The United Nations estimated in June 2014 that more than 86,000 people had attempted the perilous route across the Andaman Sea since June 2012. Newer UN data claims that more than 20,000 have made the trip since the start of 2014 alone.

By: Lawi Weng, The Irrawaddy

Thailand arrests, repatriates 100 workers

More than a hundred illegal Cambodian migrant workers smuggled into Thailand were arrested and sent back home yesterday, according to Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Thai media reported the Cambodians had been hiding in forest near the border town of Aranyaprathet waiting for traffickers to take them to Bangkok.

But the traffickers – who Thai police suggested had heard of an impending crackdown – never showed up, leaving police to arrest the migrants en masse.

Ministry spokesman Koy Kuong said the migrant workers, 86 men, 42 women, and a boy and a girl of unspecified age, were arrested yesterday morning and eventually transferred to Cambodian authorities, arriving back in the Kingdom in the afternoon.

“[They were arrested] only yesterday, [and stayed] not even a day in Thailand,” Kuong said.

The workers then separated and started making their way home. None were charged or punished in any way on arrival in Cambodia, Kuong said.

Thai media reported the migrants had paid 2,500 baht ($77) each to a Cambodian trafficker to take them to Bangkok.

Cambodians are allowed to work in Thailand by registering with a list of approved agencies that legally send them to the country, but some avoid the agencies due to high fees and a lack of transparency.

Last month, police arrested the owner of a phony work agency in Phnom Penh after workers protested they had arrived in Thailand with no jobs on location, despite paying a hefty $350 finder’s fee.

 

By: Charles Rollet, The Phnom Penh Post

Burmese Government, Rights Groups Raise Concerns Over Koh Tao Murder Case

CHIANG MAI, Thailand – Questions linger over the controversial police investigation into the murder of two British tourists on Koh Tao that led to the arrest of two Burmese migrant workers last week.

The Burmese government is monitoring the case and President Thein Sein will raise the issue with Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha—who is scheduled to visit Burma from Oct. 9—according to President’s Office Director Zaw Htay.

“That issue [the detention of the two Burmese migrants] will be in the discussion,” Zaw Htay told The Irrawaddy, adding that Burmese government representatives were now trying to meet with the two migrants who are currently being detained on Koh Samui.

“It is important that the suspects dare to tell us the truth without fear when we meet them,” Zaw Htay said.

According to Thai police, the two Burmese migrants, identified as Win and Saw, confessed to the murders of Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, on the island in Thailand’s Surat Thani province on Sept. 15. Thai police also said that DNA samples taken from the two suspects matched DNA found on one of the deceased.

Burma’s Ambassador to Thailand Win Maung told the Irrawaddy on Friday that he had asked a group of Thai and Burmese lawyers to find out from the two murder suspects whether or not the allegations were true.

“We don’t know what really happened,” Win Maung said. “Now, it is just a police finding. [The] case can be changed in court.”

“We will make sure [before taking any action]. Otherwise, it will be our mistake if our side is wrong. We worry for all our people [migrant workers] and we are trying to help them as much as we can,” he added.

Andy Hall, a British migrant rights activist based in Thailand, has also helped organize an independent legal team to undertake a fact finding mission, beginning yesterday, to ensure the two accused migrants receive a fair trial.

“It is very important that independent legal assistance is given to the [two detained] workers to ensure they get a proper trial,” Hall said. “We will be trying as much as we can.” The two suspects were reportedly kept without legal representation during their interrogation.

Hall also voiced concern over the treatment of other Burmese migrants during the investigation. According to the Burmese community on Koh Tao, some migrant workers were abused while being questioned by police, Hall said.

“We have a lot of suspicions about the whole process in which they questioned the migrant community,” said Hall. There are approximately 3 million Burmese migrant workers in Thailand, most of whom work in low-paid jobs where they are vulnerable to abuse, arrest and extortion by Thai employers or authorities.

Than Hlaing, one of six Burmese migrants who were questioned by Thai police last Thursday in connection with the Koh Tao murders, alleged that the group was beaten under interrogation. “They [the police] beat all of us while interrogating us. Three of us were seriously injured. But some got minor injuries,” Than Hlaing said. “They detained us for one night. They collected our records and took pictures of us. [Then] they finally told us that we were not guilty and released us.”

After hearing the news that two Burmese migrants were suspected of committing the murders, migrants living and working on Koh Tao expressed fears for their safety.

Sithu, a Burmese migrant worker on Koh Tao who was questioned by Thai police, said, “Burmese people here live in fear [after] police said that Burmese migrants committed the killing. If it is true, the situation will be more tough for the Burmese workers.”

Kyaw Thaung, director of the Bangkok-based Myanmar Association in Thailand (MAT), a labor rights group that helps Burmese migrant workers in Thailand, expressed doubts over the police investigation.

“The killing on Koh Tao is directly linked to the image of Thailand. So I think they [Thai police] will try to make it that Thai are not committing the crime because it will damage the image of the country,” he said.

By: Saw Yan Naing, The Irrawaddy

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