Thailand calls for summit on human trafficking
PM says Thailand only a transit point for smuggling Rohingya seeking passage from Myanmar to Malaysia
Thailand called Friday for a regional summit to discuss the trafficking of Muslim Rohingya seeking passage from Myanmar to Malaysia, following the discovery of mass migrant graves.
In the last week, 33 bodies of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants have been discovered in four human trafficking camps in southern Thailand near the border with Malaysia.
Local authorities have found at least 55 people -- including Rohingya and Bangladeshi – wandering in the forests along the border in the past few days, Police Colonel Putichat Ekkachan told Anadolu Agency on Friday.
Thailand’s junta chief-cum-prime minister, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, said Friday, " Thailand is only a transit point for smugglingRohingya.”
The Bangkok Post reported that he stressed that the country "has to step up measures to fight it [trafficking] as it will only worsen when the ASEAN economic community is launched.”
A government source quoted by the Post said Thailand was hoping that a multilateral meeting would help develop a regional plan of action.
In addition to Myanmar and Malaysia, Thai authorities are also considering inviting Bangladesh to the prospective summit, as well as the U.S., Indonesia, New Zealand, Australia and officials representing the U.N. High Commission for the Refugees and the International Organization for Migration.
Chan-ocha said that the Rohingya and Bangladeshis arrested in the last few days would be charged with illegal entry and detained.
"We will also provide them with food according to their religious beliefs. This is the burden of Thailand,” he added.
Since the discovery of the gravesites, 53 policemen based in the southern provinces of Songkhla, Ranong and Satun -- where smuggling of Rohingya is widespread -- have been transferred to inactive posts.
According to The Nation, another 15 police officers have faced similar sanctions on suspicion of benefiting from trafficking or due to "incompetence.”
Deputy-prime Minister General Prawit Wongsuwan had told reporters Thursday of his surprise over the "ignorance” of local police and military officers regarding the smuggling activities in their area.
Earlier this week, the United Nations High Commission for Refugees reacted to the discovery of the camps by expressing its "deep concern” in a statement Wednesday.
The agency called for "a regional effort to end human trafficking” and "law enforcement measures accompanied by efforts to reduce the need for migrants and refugees to turn to smugglers in the first place.”
The gruesome discovery of the corpses has shocked Thailand, which is under heavy pressure from the U.S. and European Union for its paltry record on human trafficking.
Last year, it was given the lowest possible ranking in a U.S. State Department's human trafficking report, while earlier this month the EU gave Thailand six months to improve efforts in combating illegal fishing by trawlers on which migrants are used in "slave-like conditions.”
Most of the Rohingya who end up in the camps are from Rakhine state in Western Myanmar.
After violent clashes in the summer of 2012 with Buddhist Rakhine, they began to flee en masse to find safety and work in Malaysia and beyond.
At first, they boarded rickety boats controlled by human smugglers -- which sometimes sank during the trip across the Andaman Sea -- but since last year they have been travelling on larger vessels.
Bangladeshis are also increasingly using human smugglers to go to what they see as the economic promise of Malaysia. But some of them -- along with the Rohingya -- are kidnapped and forced to board the boats.
Once arriving near the Thai coast, they are taken by truck to camps hidden in the jungle and detained until their families pay ransom.
They are then left to attempt to cross the border into Malaysia.
Last Modified: 2015-05-08 12:18:35
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