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Burmese workers wait for friends outside Ranong Immigration in 2008

Burmese Accuse Thai Officials of People Trafficking

Tuesday, August 31, 2010
ILLEGAL immigrants to Thailand have accused officials in the border town of Ranong of selling them by the boatload to people-smugglers and engaging in the sexual enslavement of young women.

Two Burmese have told Phuketwan that local police and Immigration officers in Ranong extort money or sex from their victims, detaining them for lengthy periods or selling them to labor brokers if payments cannot be made.

One young woman, aged 17, said that she had been obliged to work at the age of 13 as a prostitute in a karaoke bar, selling sex at 350 baht a time, with 125 baht going to her ''owner'' and 100 baht going to a corrupt Immigration officer. The karaoke bar, she says, is owned by a local policeman.

Arrested immigrants, after periods of detention of varying length in Ranong, are sorted into groups and marked for delivery across the Kraburi River to Burma, or for transfer to the boats of people-traffickers in mid-stream, the Burmese say.

The illegal trade in humans has been going on for years, a source in Ranong told Phuketwan, with thousands of Burmese caught and trafficked annually.

Ranong is the border return-point for illegal Burmese immigrants arrested throughout Thailand's 14 southern provinces, which include the international holiday destinations of Phuket and the Andaman tsunami coast.

Paradoxically, the sordid process meets with the tacit approval of its Burmese victims. Being sold into sexual slavery or forced to work as a shrimp factory laborer is deemed to be a better outcome than being delivered directly across the border to Burmese officials, who impose long jail terms and sometimes brutal punishment.

The two women who spoke to Phuketwan - one we have named ''Ae'' and the other ''Mo'' - risked punishment from police and Immigration officials to give their account of life on the run in Thailand. Their story was endorsed by well-placed sources that, for obvious reasons, cannot be named.

In January 2009, Phuketwan and the South China Morning Post newspaper in Hong Kong reported the pushbacks by the Thai army of hundreds of Rohingya boatpeople from a secret island not far from Ranong. Many would-be refugees are thought to have perished at sea, and the Muslim outcasts now flee to Malaysia using other routes.

For years, the victimisation of thousands of Burmese immigrants to Thailand has been happening without government action. It continues today, even after international attention focused on the treatment of the Rohingya, and a horrific incident in 2008 in which 54 people suffocated to death when the air-conditioning failed on a sealed container truck carrying more than 100 to Phuket.

A life laboring legally or illegally in construction gangs on the holiday island of Phuket represents the dream of many Burmese, who prefer the hardship of dodging authorities in Thailand to poverty and hunger in their homeland.

The two women who talked to Phuketwan in Ranong are not related but through their experiences they have now formed a sisterly bond.

Their account is timely because the International Anti-Corruption Conference, attracting about 1500 delegates from around the world, convenes in Bangkok in November. Thailand's Sihasak Phuangketkeow is the current president of the UN Human Rights Council.

'Mo' is 17. She says she is an orphan. She does not have memories of either of her parents and was raised by a Burmese woman in Victoria Point, the Burmese town closest to Ranong.

''When I was six years old, I was brought to Thailand by the woman who took care of me after my mother and father died. She took me to Chumphon province, where she worked in a fish factory. We stayed in Thailand. When I was 13, she sold me to the owner of a karaoke bar for 70,000 baht. I was paid 4000 baht a month, but my salary went to the woman who sold me. I served beer and cleaned the shop and sat with the customers.

''If customers gave me a tip, I was able to keep that. I told the owner I wanted to leave, but he said he had paid for me, so I couldn't. I ran away. I met a Burmese man who was kind to me and got me a job in a fish factory. I saved my money for a year, then I met 'Ae'. She was looking for a job. 'Ae' decided to head back to Ranong and took me with her.

''Before we could leave Chumphon, we were stopped by policemen in the street. The policeman asked for 7000 baht from each of us. He said that would mean he could let us go. 'Ae' said she didn't have money, but I had saved some money and we negotiated the price down to 3000 baht. They freed me and I went back to work in the factory.

'''Ae' was kept at the police station for a month. They wait to have enough people to fill a truck before they take them all back together to Ranong. So I met 'Ae' back in Ranong.

''I had no job, and no money, so I decided to go to Soi 3 [Ranong's seedy brothel zone]. I worked there for a policeman. The man kept our Burmese ID cards. I was paid 350 baht for every time I had sex. The owner got 125 baht and Immigration got 100 baht. I had to work every day, with four or five customers on some days. In the end, I ran away and met 'Ae.' But the owner traced me and sent a guy to take me back to the bar.

''Eventually I fell sick and went to Ranong Hospital. Then 'Ae' took me to stay with another friend. I was stopped by a patrol policeman, and told him that my ID card was with the owner of the bar in Soi 3. The patrol policeman wanted 2000 baht but I couldn't pay, so he took me to the police station. In court, I was fined 2000 baht, which meant that I had to serve 10 days in jail, at 200 baht a day. After that, I was sent to the Immigration detention centre.

''A woman came to see me and asked ''Anyone come to pay for you yet?'' I said ''No.'' The woman paid 1500 baht for me to Immigration officers, and took me and 20 women and about 30 men in a truck. We were put on two boats, one for men and one for women. We were all banded around the wrist.

''Close to Victoria Point, a longtail boat came to meet us. The man in the boat had a list of the people he was taking. Four others girls and I got on the boat and were taken back to Thailand. Everybody else on board the big boats was tranferred to different small boats.

''We never saw any Burmese authorities. I know we were taken back to Thailand, but I don't know exactly where. The woman who paid 1500 baht for me was waiting at the pier. She had to pay 2000 baht more for each of us.

''We were taken in a minivan to work at Kraburi district in a rubber plantation. After six weeks, the woman told me she was looking for a husband for me. I befriended a man who took me shopping at a local market, but when I had the chance I ran away with 1000 baht in shopping money. I caught a bus to Ranong and met 'Ae' again.''

'Ae' is 23. She says she has been living in Ranong for more than 10 years, having arrived with eight other members of her immediate family. They came to sell clothing, and stayed.

''About four years ago, my family decided to go back to Burma. They had saved some money, so they were able to open a shop back there. I liked it in Thailand, so I stayed. It's tougher back there. I sometimes work in a bar if I need money. One bar owner took my ID card and kept it.

''I have travelled around Thailand a bit, to Samui, to Nakkornsitammarat, and even to Phuket once. They asked for my ID at the Tachatchai checkpoint, but I said that I was a Phuket girl and I'd left my card at home. They were OK with that. I speak Thai quite well, so the police sometimes don't realise I am illegal.

''One time in Chumphon, I met 'Mo' and I was arrested because I had no ID and no money to buy my way out. I was stuck in detention there, while they waited for numbers to build to make it worthwhile to take us all to Ranong. At Immigration, they asked for money but I said I only had 1500 baht, which was enough for one way, to Victoria Point.

''When I had some money, I headed back to Thailand on a one-week temporary pass card. Since then, I haven't gone back. A patrol policeman pulled me up in Ranong one night. I told him I didn't have a card. He asked for 5000 baht, but I said I didn't have that kind of money. 'If you sleep with me, I won't send you to the police station,' he said. Eventually, he took 1500 baht.

''When we meet the police, they always ask for money. I remember the time when three men came looking for 'Mo' at my place. They did not find her, because she was staying with my friend. That was safer. The men beat me and took me up to a hill. I think they were going to kill me, because I wouldn't tell them where 'Mo' was. Then they took me to a bar in Soi 3 and handcuffed me to a table. The handcuffs were not very good so I managed to escape. I got back to my room, grabbed my belongings, and went to see 'Mo.'

''Now, in the daytime, I am not scared if someone spots me. Night is different, because it's more dangerous. The police here make money on Burmese any time, all the time. Even people with legal documents are sometimes told they will be framed and have drugs planted on them if they do not pay up.''

'Mo' and 'Ae' plan to continue their life in Thailand, probably in Ranong. They do not answer when asked about their futures.

The colonel in charge of Immigration at Ranong said that all questions directed to him would first have to be vetted by his superior officer in Bangkok.

*The Burmese pictured in the accompanying photo album were waiting outside Ranong Immigration for friends in April 2008 and have no connection with this article.
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Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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Thank you for revealing this horrible layer of Thai society.

I hear many westerners, excluding the property developers who exploit them, expressing concern for the Burmese and empathy. I wonder if Thais feel the same?

Besides driving by labor camps and giving them bags of old clothes is there anything else we can do?

I might suggest that you contact SHE Thailand http://www.shethailand.org/
as they help women get off the streets. Perhaps they can offer help.

They are in Phuket. I will also forward them this article.

I look forward to your follow up news on this.

Posted by VFaye on August 31, 2010 21:40

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Excellent article again!
I am waiting for the comments coming in to see if there is anyone out there who might not believe that this happens in Thailand!

Spot on! Everyone knows! Great work Phuket Wan.
Please! Please never release the names of those poor people abused by our fine authorities.

Posted by Mr. K on August 31, 2010 21:41

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Andaman Discoveries does a lot to help Burmese children...they are currently running a nutritional program for Burmese children...perhaps they could help? Thanks for the story, Phuket Wan, no matter how heartbreaking it is...

Posted by anonymous on August 31, 2010 23:11

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This is your true calling. One of the most captivating articles on any news site I have read in a long long time.

Posted by JingJing on September 1, 2010 04:13

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This is something that should be read by everyone in this country but I am sure it will not help your standing with the local authorities. Quite brave of you to publish, you have my respect.

Thanks also to those who have posted options for doing something. Personally I will take some action today. This is an unacceptable social ill. Thanks for posting this even if it is revolting and unfortunately completely believable.

Posted by Ya Think Doctor? on September 1, 2010 08:08

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Finding a solution is the real challenge.

Posted by logbags on September 1, 2010 08:09

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The best solution would be a free and prosperous Burma. There is a cause why millions of Burmese come here to be exploited as housemaids or in house building gangs, Thailand is the far lesser evil for them. Thailand is a good place for them to be.

That said, kids prostitution by immigration officials and police men, having them work, where they do not want under the most cruel conditions are all serious crimes. Money running uphill should not prevent to charge after this serious notorious criminals, police or not. Make an example, draw a strong line. Kids prostitution and slave labor cannot be.

The other cases of little extortion I do not mind so much, as if the police would do their jobs by the book, these Burmese women would have been send to Burma long ago. And that would have been the most fearsome prospect for them...

Posted by Lena on September 1, 2010 09:27

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Thanks for exposing what we all expected already. There was a great editorial in the Bangkok Post about the way some Thais treat the Burmese. My heart goes out to them and hopefully, with you exposing these people, the victims can find peace and happiness. Great job again PW!!!

Posted by Jon on September 1, 2010 13:25

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@Jon:The BP article was, like most BP stuff, mild compared to what is above.

Posted by mike on September 1, 2010 14:21

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VFaye - How are the property developers exploiting them? Would they be better working in Brothels and Bars instead of building houses somehow?

Posted by Benjie on September 1, 2010 22:10

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Excellent stuff. What is going on along Thailand's borders, Phuket port and Samut Prakarn needs to be continually highlighted

Posted by Andrew on September 2, 2010 11:03

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I as an alien know the feeling of fear as i know none of us have rights

Posted by random on September 7, 2010 13:34

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Congratulations - I take my hat off to your team - a brave article indeed - keep up the wonderful work on this important issue!

Posted by Fiona on November 13, 2010 12:42


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