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Boatpeople Case North of Phuket Raises Doubts About Thailand's Commitment to Stop Human Trafficking

Sunday, September 28, 2014
PHUKET: Police north of Phuket have overlooked a possible connection to human trafficking in a case involving 37 men, women and children, raising doubts about Thailand's newly-expressed commitment to treat the issue with appropriate seriousness.

The Rohingya and Bangladeshi men and women apprehended at Takuapa this week have instead been jailed as illegal immigrants.

Their 10 children have been sent to detention on Phuket, not as they would normally be to a family shelter as close as possible to their parents.

Rather than involve experienced local staff from the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security in the process, police in Takuapa speedily brought the apprehended group before the local court.

The boatpeople were each fined 4000 baht for being illegal immigrants and, when they could not pay the fines, ordered to serve 20 days in jail.

Three of the arrested people suffered cuts that they said were caused by beatings from a broker-trafficker on the boat south from Burma. Although a ministry official who saw the cuts thought they required hospital treatment, police did not send the wounded individuals to hospital.

Without a professional translator available, police used a local roti salesman to interview the group. Standard procedure with people suspected of being human trafficking victims is to interview each person, one by one.

Local authorities in Phang Nga province, north of Phuket, are taking seriously the need for Thailand to be seen to stop human trafficking if it is to be lifted from Tier 3, the lowest possible ranking in the US State Department's Trafficking in Persons report.

The Andaman coast province, increasingly popular with holidaymakers, has a reputation for being a hub for human trafficking, often with locals lending a hand.

The Director of Takuapa District, Manit Pakpean, is among those who have set out to lift Thailand from Tier 3 by apprehending the trafficking victims and arresting the perpetrators.

''I called in all the village chiefs and told them to tell me immediately if they heard about traffickers,'' he told Phuketwan. ''We have to stop them.''

On Wednesday, a tip-off led Khun Manit and his team of volunteers to pull over two vehicles laden with the 37 boatpeople.

They were held at the council offices until late on Thursday.

That gave local authorities and local staff of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security time enough to learn that the group had all ''bought a ticket'' for Malaysia, on the promise of jobs being provided.

Only on the boat sailing south did they realise, as the abuses began, that they were in the hands of a broker-trafficker. His beatings inflicted serious wounds, the boatpeople told their rescuers.

Once the people were handed over to police, the widely-experienced ministry officials were cut out of the process.

A police investigator told Phuketwan yesterday that the case ''wasn't human trafficking at all'' because the passengers had agreed to make the trip.

The two arrested Thai drivers told police they were paid 3000 baht to drive the people south from Ranong, a port on the border with Burma, to Sadao in the province of Songkhla, close to the border with Malaysia.

Songkhla is notorious for its secret jungle traffickers' camps.

The drivers said it was their second assignment. They had been contacted by telephone.

In normal circumstances, children apprehended on the Andaman coast would be sent to the government family shelter in Phang Nga.

By sending the eight boys and two girls to detention in Phuket, the police put the children an extra two hours' drive from their parents.

They are now incarcerated with Thai children serving detention for a multitude of crimes. They do not speak the same language.

Since the lowering of Thailand to Tier 3, the Thai Government has said it will make every effort to lift the country to a better ranking as soon as possible.

With this case not being categorised as possibly one involving human trafficking, the US State Department might not even get to hear about it.

The attitude of the Takuapa police differs from that of district chief Khun Manit.

''We have to clear our coast from accusations of trafficking,'' he told Phuketwan. ''We have to work with the Royal Thai Navy, Marine Police and national park rangers to stop it as soon as possible.

''It's plain now that we need a more comprehensive plan.''

Phuketwan has not been able to find any trace of a court case pending against a Phang Nga policeman who was accused last year of driving the getaway vehicle to help a trafficker abduct several Rohingya women and children in Phang Nga. One of the women was raped by the trafficker.

Declaration of Interest: In July next year, Phuketwan journalists Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian face a continuing trial over criminal defamation and Computer Crimes Act charges brought by the Royal Thai Navy, citing a 41-word paragraph from a Pulitzer prize-winning Reuters report on the Rohingya boatpeople. Reuters and other news organisations in Thailand that published the same paragraph have not been charged. The charges were laid before the military takeover in Thailand.

Comments

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Dear PW,

although at times i would greatly differ with your opinions and thoughts in relation to many aspects of your articles you should be commended for the way in which you fight for defenseless people week in week out by publishuing these stories.

Its shame the other Phuket publications could not follow suit and shine a bright light on these peoples plight.

Hats off to PW

Posted by phuket Saviour on September 28, 2014 12:26

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Damn fine job of reporting-writing! Best article from PW, ever! This should be carried by every news publisher in the universe. Send it especially to the USA. Their borders are totally ringed with human smugglers and traffickers. Of course, so too are various countries of the Mediterranean Sea!

Posted by Kenny Wayne on September 28, 2014 16:13

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"Send it especially to the USA. Their borders are totally.."

I (also) think Phuketwan has done more than enough just by publishing the article right here Kenny!

If no one else of media importance is monitoring Phuketwan by now - like maybe some little operation called Reuters - we're all going to hell in a hand-basket..

Posted by farang888 on September 29, 2014 05:56


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