RESCUED boatpeople were being interviewed by officials on Saturday afternoon after being fed and showered in Takuapa, north of Phuket. Some showed wounds, inflicted the men said by their ''kidnappers.'' Phuketwan reporters were on the spot with a reliable translator and helping officials to record the accounts of the 53 men, one by one, and looking forward to greeting other reporters from Phuket.
PHUKET: A large group of trafficked boatpeople is being held by local authorities north of Phuket to protect them from local police and ensure their rights are upheld.
According to one of the boatpeople who spoke in English by telephone to Phuketwan, the group of 53 had been among 310 men, women and children ''kidnapped'' by Thai brokers.
At least 100 more Rohingya and Bangladeshis are still hidden on an island off the holiday coast of Thailand's Andaman region, north of Phuket, he said.
Local officials have taken the apprehended boatpeople into custody and called in human rights lawyers because of concerns that the police will not recognise the boatpeople as asylum seekers and treat them instead as illegal migrants.
The case is likely to bring to the attention of Thailand's government to the continuing human trafficking off Thailand's coast as increasing numbers of Rohingya flee persecution in Burma, also known as Myanmar, where they are stateless and being subjected to ethnic cleansing.
The group of 53 men was arrested today at 4am by the Director of the Takuapa district, Manit Paktean, and a team of volunteers. The men were waiting in bushes alongside the main road through the large coast township of Takuapa.
Two men alleged to be traffickers fled when the authorities swooped.
Others from the same trafficking boat had already been trucked south towards the border with Malaysia, the asylum seeker, aged 22, told Phuketwan.
''I fled from Cox's Bazaar (in Bangladesh) and there were 310 people on the boat,'' he said. ''We quickly realised we had been kidnapped and were going to be sold on. I was beaten on the boat and in the camp as well.''
Many uninhabited islands dot the coast of the province of Phang Nga, north of Phuket, allowing human trafficking to flourish over the past few years as increasing numbers of Rohingya have fled. Locals and outlaw men in uniform are believed to have turned to trading in people as a highly profitable source of income.
The asylum seeker told Phuketwan he had become desperate after a lifetime as an unwanted refugee in a Rohingya camp in Bangladesh. He left behind a one-year-old child, his wife and his mother.
In a post on the man's Facebook page, he wrote: ''I ask you, Government of Burma says, 'This is not your land.'
''Government of Bangladesh says 'This is not your land. So I ask UNHCR [the UN refugee body] I ask Burma and Bangladesh, to please tell me, 'Where do I belong? Where is my house? Where can I go?
''I do not want to be a refugee any more. I just want to live in peace.''
A campaign to drive Rohingya from their land in Burma's Rakhine state began with the torching of villages by their Buddhist neighbors in mid-2012. An increasing stream of men, women and children have been trafficked by sea and through secret jungle camps in southern Thailand since then.
It's still a mystery as to how traffickers trading in so many thousands of people manage to evade all the authorities in Thailand. The country was relegated to Tier 3, the lowest level, in the US State Department's annual Trafficking in Persons report this year.
Concern continues to mount among human rights groups as Burma pursues an inhumane policy that fails to mask its campaign to obliterate all Rohingya.
In the latest development, increasing numbers of men from Burma's Rohingya Muslim minority are being arrested and tortured because of alleged ties to a militant Islamic organisation, according to a rights group.
The Rohingya have previously been accused of travelling south to join the violent insurgency movement in southern Thailand. Thai officials investigated and found that the boatpeople were genuine asylum seekers who were only interested in finding sanctuary in Malaysia.