IN BURMA in October 2012, ''ethnic cleansing'' and crimes against humanity were committed by security forces against the Rohingya ethnic group, resulting in the murders of hundreds of Rohingya and causing more than 100,000 of them to fled the country while leaving another 140,000 displaced and living in dire conditions.
Violence and discrimination against the Rohingya, who are Muslims, has been fuelled by Buddhist extremists and there had been sectarian violence between Muslim Rohingya and Buddhist Arakanese in Rakhine (Arakan) State in June 2012. The Burmese government calls the Rohingya illegal ''Bengali'' migrants from Bangladesh.
Most of the 1.1 million Rohingya living in Burma's western Rakhine State are denied citizenship. Human Rights Watch has alleged on-going persecution of the largely stateless Rohingya.
Thousands of the Rohingya fled Burma on often-rickety boats were then intercepted. They were then passed through ''trafficking camps'' in southern Thailand. Traffickers forced the asylum seekers to call relatives in Malaysia and Thailand to demand a ransom of around $2000 for their return.
Those who could not find a relative to pay the ransom were reportedly sold as slaves on Thai fishing boats or as manual laborers on farms. Some were murdered at the camps and others died of disease.
Media reports allege that Thai officials collaborated with the traffickers by transferring Rohingya held in Thailand to the custody of the traffickers. The UN has called for an investigation into the reports Thai officials moved refugees from Burma into human trafficking rings.
On January 27, 2014, after pressure from the US Government and the UN, Thai authorities raided one of the trafficking camps and took into custody 531 people.
In addition Thailand permitted 2055 Rohingya migrants to enter the country in 2013. Thailand has no refugee law and does not allow Rohingya to register asylum claims or to seek protection as refugees.
Thus they were treated as ''illegal migrants'' and did not receive protection as refugees under international law.
The government separated families, holding adult men and some male children in immigration detention centers while women and younger children were held in shelters run by the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security.
The Rohingya had no ability to be accepted as refugees by Thailand and thus were being subjected to indefinite detention.
In 2013, eight Rohingya men died in detention from apparent poor health conditions exacerbated by extreme heat and lack of access to health care.
Almost all the 2055 Rohingya who were held in detention have since either fled the shelters, escaped, were deported or were transferred into the hands of human traffickers.
Many thousands more Rohingya have been intercepted at sea by Thai officials and either redirected to Malaysia or handed over to people smugglers and human traffickers.
Journalists face imprisonment for reporting on trafficking of Rohingya
Journalists Alan Morison (an Australian from Melbourne) and Chutima Sidasathian (a Thai) are being pursued by the Royal Thai Navy on defamation charges for republishing a paragraph from Reuters news agency alleging the involvement of ''naval'' personnel in the trafficking of the Rohingya asylum seekers. The charges were laid on December 16, 2013.
Under Thai law, defamation is a criminal offence and the two journalists could face up to seven years imprisonment if found guilty. Efforts by the Thai Human Rights Commission to broker a resolution to the case were stalled by the military coup in Thailand on May 22, 2014.
The trial date for the two journalists has been set as July 14, 2015.
Reuters and other news outlets in Thailand that published the same information have not been charged, indicating that seven years of award-winning coverage of the Rohingya issue has earned Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian unjust special treatment.
Write polite and respectful letters to (a letter from Australia to Thailand will cost $1.85):
General Prayuth Chan-ocha
Prime Minister and Head of NCPO
Royal Thai Army Headquarters
Rachadamnoen Nok Road,
Bangkok 10200, Thailand
Fax: (+66-2) 226 1838
Salutation: Dear General
His Excellency Mr Maris SANGIAMPONGSA
Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary
Royal Thai Embassy
111 Empire Circuit
Yarralumla, ACT, 2600
Salutation: Your Excellency
Points to make in your letter:
.. Express deep concern at allegations that the Thai government officials have been involved in trafficking and selling Rohingya asylum seekers.
.. Request the Thai authorities conduct a thorough and impartial investigation to establish if any government officials have been involved in human trafficking of Rohingya.
.. Urge the Thai Government to shut down the camps in southern Thailand that have allegedly been used to traffic Rohingya.
.. Ask that the Royal Thai Navy drop the defamation case against the journalists Alan Morison and Chutima Sidasathian.
.. Point out that if progress is to be made in eliminating human trafficking and other human rights abuses, journalists and human rights defenders need to be able to research and expose such criminal human rights violations.
.. Point out the current prosecutions are over-shadowing the important efforts the Thai Government has been making to try and eliminate human trafficking, forced labor and child labor.
Also write to:
The Hon Julie Bishop MP
Minister for Foreign Affairs
PO Box 6022
House of Representatives
Canberra ACT 2600
Salutation: Dear Minister
Points to make in your letter:
.. Express deep concern at allegations that the Thai government officials have been involved in trafficking and selling Rohingya asylum seekers into bonded labor.
.. Ask that the Australian Government raise concerns over these allegations with the Thai authorities and request a thorough investigation.