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A boatperson being recorded in Thailand's Kaper yesterday

Thailand's Trafficking Travesty Risks Lives

Sunday, November 9, 2014
KAPER: The mystery of the disappearing boatpeople and a sudden, inexplicable change in ethnicity among would-be refugees is a puzzle of the kind that has often afflicted Thailand's Andaman coast. It happened again yesterday.

Early in the morning, 299 boatpeople were arrested by the Army's Internal Security Operations Command, working with local police in the province of Ranong. The Rohingya among the men, women and children totalled 219. The other 80 said they were from Bangladesh, according to officials.

By yesterday evening, the number being held in custody in a community hall in the township of Kaper had fallen to 252, with the other 47 boatpeople mysteriously disappearing. Nobody knew where they went. There appeared to be no great concern over the fate of the vanished boatpeople.

An even greater puzzle surrounded the declared ethnicities of the group. Within the space of a few hours, all those people who had previously said they were Rohingya or Bangladeshi were suddenly being recorded as Burmese.

This is not a miraculous conversion. Many times, boatpeople who land on the Andaman coast, north of the holiday island of Phuket, are declared to be Burmese, even though they can't even speak the appropriate language. This makes deportation easy. No further questions are necessary.

Phuketwan unravelled a little of the mystery yesterday during a brief visit inside the Kaper community hall, where the boatpeople who had not vanished over the course of a few hours yesterday were being processed by officials.

Large numbers of Ranong police, the Army, the Navy and officers from the Department of Human Security and Social Welfare helped in processing the boatpeople. Anti-human trafficking police from Bangkok looked on, too.

Each of the boatpeople had his fingerprints taken, then he was photographed. A group of investigators at trestle tables asked each man for details: name, age, parents, nationality. While responses to the first three questions varied, the answer provided by each translator to ''nationalty'' was the same: Burmese.

Just a few hours earlier, the ethnicities of these same people had been recorded as Rohingya and Bangladeshis. None of them were Burmese.

While the processing of the boatpeople in the Kaper community hall appeared to be efficient, it was certainly speedy. The questions took just a few seconds to answer.

As a result, all of the boatpeople will be treated as illegal immigrants, not human trafficking victims. Seven men arrested with the boatpeople will face court on charges relating to illegal migration, not as accused human traffickers.

Just 30 minutes' drive south from Kaper, in the neighboring province of Phang Nga, these boatpeople would have been handled differently. They would have been exhaustively questioned by volunteers and activists to determine whether or not they were genuine human trafficking victims.

Tomorrow, three men arrested recently with large groups of boatpeople close to the township of Takuapa will face human trafficking and abuse charges in a local court.

Volunteers and activists, led by the district chief officer, have decided it's time to end Thailand's farcical system so that the boatpeople are saved from abuse, rapes and death in the secret traffickers' camps of southern Thailand.

The difference in approach between what happens in Ranong and in Phang Nga is all down to lack of a budget to deal with human trafficking victims, Phuketwan was told several times yesterday.

And so there's the Catch 22 for human trafficking in Thailand.

Until the government acknowledges that there's a problem, there will be no budget to deal with possible human trafficking victims. And because there are at present no human trafficking victims, there is no problem, so there's no need for a budget.

The Muslims, Buddhist and Christian activists in Phang Nga who are now boldly defying the system represent Thailand's chance to deal with the issue truthfully, even if it comes at a financial cost.

Thailand's international reputation hinges on what happens in the two provinces north of Phuket over the next few days and weeks.

Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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The various governments of the past (and possibly present) can spend gazillions on all sorts of non-essential, potentially corruption-susceptible projects, and white elephants, but won't spend on necessary human rights issues. Shows the priorities of those in power. The Thai nation deserves better than this. Closer to home... 50 million to build the Phuket Gateway back in the day. Mmmm...

Posted by Duncan on November 9, 2014 11:35

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Just like Burma used to have sanctions against it, which were lifted because of falses promises, these sanctions should have been re-implemented.

The same for Thailand and Malaysia. Since the countries are incapable of doing what they should be doing, the world needs to implement sanctions on the countries until proper standards are a heard to.
One of the many problems in the worlds "to fix" list.

Posted by Tbs on November 9, 2014 12:07

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(moderated)

Posted by Feisty Farang on November 9, 2014 16:00

Editor Comment:

Bigotry is not tolerated here, FF.

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AM stop being a GOM and put my comment up, it is accurate and not offensive. If you can open debates you are in the wrong business.

Posted by Feisty Farang on November 9, 2014 17:41

Editor Comment:

Bigotry, FF. Not wanted here.

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It is good that NY Times by today's article attracted an attention to the issue too:

http://nyti.ms/1so09Je

Posted by Sue on November 9, 2014 18:47

Editor Comment:

Thanks. Jane Perlez is a great reporter.

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(moderated)

Posted by Feisty Farang on November 9, 2014 19:54

Editor Comment:

No bigotry here, FF.

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Wow ! One hundred thousands 100000 us dollars made within 12 hours by selling 47 rohingya heads from joint custody ? Who sell this 47 persons just arrested? Puzzling to the wold! Listing both rohingya and Bangladeshi into Burmese another conspiracy for selling the rest 250 persons @total of a half million US dollars .it's recycling rohingya victim lives in between traffickers and so called helpers, rescuers and custodians. How open robberies is this ?

Posted by Maung kyaw nu on November 9, 2014 20:18

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The writers state that:

"the answer provided by each translator to 'nationalty' was the same: Burmese"

"Just a few hours earlier, the ethnicities of these same people had been recorded as Rohingya and Bangladeshis"

Lets' be clear here: Nationality and ethnicity are not the same thing. Best if the authors do not conflate the two.

Posted by matt on November 10, 2014 08:31

Editor Comment:

More to the point, best if the Thai author-ities do not cherry pick them. Odd how readers blame writers.

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A very good article, with great respect for the journalists who open our thai eyes and make us feel sad about our own thai government ( allowing slave trade in 2014!)

Posted by Kurt on November 16, 2014 15:42


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