Sun, Dec 08, 2013 - Page 9 News List

Thailand secretly delivers Myanmar refugees into trafficking

A Reuters investigation has uncovered trafficking of Burmese refugees into brutal Thai jungle camps

By Ason Szep and Andrew Marshall  /  Reuters, RANONG, Thailand

Bozor Mohamed, the third young Rohingya from Buthedaung, said he was held for 10 days at a camp in Padang Besar. He, too, said he had been delivered by Thai officials to trafficking boats along the maritime border with Myanmar. Afterward, in torrential rain and under cover of darkness, along with perhaps 200 other Rohingya, Mohamed said he was ferried back across the strait to Thailand, where a new ordeal began.

The men were taken on a two-day journey by van, motorbike and foot to a smuggler’s camp on the border with Malaysia. On the final hike, men with canes beat the young Rohingya and the others, many of them hobbled by months of detention. They stumbled and dragged themselves up steep forested hills. Making the same trek was Mohamed Hassan, a fourth Rohingya to escape Thailand’s trafficking network. Hassan is a baby-faced 19-year-old from the Rakhine capital of Sittwe.

He said he arrived at the camp in September after an overnight journey in a pick-up truck, followed by a two-hour walk into the hills with dozens of other Rohingya. Their captors ordered them to carry supplies, he said. Already giddy with fatigue and hunger after eight days at sea, the 19-year-old shouldered a sack of rice.

“If we stopped, the men beat us with sticks,” he said.

The camp was partially skirted by a barbed-wire fence, he said, and guarded by about 25 men with guns, knives and clubs. Hassan reckoned it held about 300 Rohingya. They slept on plastic sheets, unprotected from the sun and rain, and were allowed only one meal a day, of rice and dried fish. He said he was constantly hungry. One night, two Rohingya men tried to escape. The guards tracked them down, bound their hands and dragged them back to camp. Then, the guards beat the two men with clubs, rods and lengths of rubber.

“Everybody watched,” Hassan said. “We said nothing. Some people were crying.”

The beating lasted about 30 minutes, he said. Then a guard drew a small knife and slit the throat of one of the fugitives. The prisoners were ordered to dispose of his corpse in the forest. The other victim was dumped in a stream. Afterward, Hassan vomited with fear and exhaustion, but tried not to cry.

“When I cried they beat me. I had already decided that I would die there,” he said.

His only hope of release was his older brother, 42, a long-time resident of Thailand. Hassan said he had his brother’s telephone number with him, but at first his captors would not let him call it. (Traffickers are reluctant to deal with relatives in Thailand, in case they have contacts with the Thai authorities that could jeopardize operations.) Eventually, Hassan reached his brother, who said he sold his motorbike to help raise the equivalent of about US$3,000 to secure Hassan’s freedom, after 20 days in the camp.

Reporters were able to trace the location of three trafficking camps, based on the testimony of Rohingya who previously were held in them.

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