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Kidnap victims embrace an activist after learning they won't be jailed

Embassy Prepares to Talk to Kidnap Victims Whose Plight Highlights Human Trafficking in Thailand

Wednesday, October 15, 2014
PHUKET: Officials from the Bangladesh embassy in Thailand are preparing to assess the claims of more than 130 men and boys who say they fell victim to kidnappers and human traffickers before being rescued on the Andaman coast north of Phuket.

Embassy officials will go to the town of Takuapa, in Phang Nga province, as soon as possible to begin interviewing the group, Bangladesh Minister (Consular) Mr Hogue told Phuketwan today.

''We have not had this type of incident before,'' Mr Hoque said. ''Kidnapping doesn't usually happen in Bangladesh. How these 130 people were kidnapped, that is the question.''

Talks have already begun with Thailand's Ministry of Foreign Affairs to enable embassy officials to interview the men independently, Mr Hoque said.

Phuketwan journalists who were present when local Muslim, Christian and Buddhist activists interviewed the group over the past few days are able to affirm that all of them - with one exception - claim they were kidnapped in Bangladesh, tossed into the hold of a fishing vessel and shipped south from Cox's Bazaar to a secret island camp off the coast of Thailand.

There, they say, some were beaten and abused and all were left with little food.

Local authorities apprehended the first group of 53 after a tip-off on Saturday and since then, the truth of the shocking trade in people in Thailand has emerged and many others have been rescued.

Mystery still surrounds the whereabouts of another 176 people that the rescued groups say were also on the large traffickers' vessel. They include three women.

Mr Hoque said today that the Bangladesh embassy staff had had previous experience in Thailand with 700 citizens being repatriated late last year and early this year.

Like large numbers of stateless Rohingya, the Bangladeshi citizens were apprehended in secret jungle camps in southern Thailand, where brutal traffickers extract large sums of money from the relatives of captives before helping them to cross the border to Malaysia.

The latest 134 arrivals from Bangladesh fall into a different category. They are not willing passengers, seeking a new start in Malaysia, but all - with one exception - victims of kidnappers.

The people-trading route through Thailand has become so well established that it appears to now be an industrial-strength pipeline.

The Andaman coast of Thailand is notorious for human trafficking, one of the reasons why the country was downgraded by the US State Department earlier this year to Tier 3 on its Trafficking in Persons rankings, the lowest level.

With the arrival of 134 kidnap victims from Bangladesh in the space of a few days, local activists and the Takuapa district chief, Manit Pleantong, have decided to begin repairing the reputation of the Andaman coast, and of Thailand.

Today the Governor of the province of Phang Nga, Prayoon Rattanaseri, offered his wholehearted support and said human trafficking in Thailand must be stopped, not covered up.

''With the help of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, we will go to visit these people and find out how such a large number of people were kidnapped in Bangladesh,'' Mr Hoque said today.

''This just doesn't happen in Bangladesh. We will assess the people individually and consider what needs to happen next.''

There are widespread concerns that the rescued victims and most of the others on the fishing vessel were being taken to secret camps in southern Thailand for sale to fishing trawlers or factories as slave labor in Malaysia or Indonesia.

The international media is already showing great interest in what appears to be a mass kidnapping and trafficking through Thailand for profit.

Some of the men's families in Bangladesh know they are missing, but have yet to be told they are safe. Mr Hoque said it was standard procedure to call the families of victims after they have been interviewed.

In March this year, the appearance of about 400 men, women in children in the jungle of southern Thailand led to conflict between China and Turkey over whether the group had the right to seek asylum in Turkey or should be returned to China as members of the Uighur minority.

The Uighurs are still in Thailand, awaiting a decision on their fate.

Over the past few days, the fresh arrival of so many men and boys who claim they were kidnapped in Bangladesh only points once again to how open Thailand's shores are to traffickers who have people to smuggle or sell.

And this is still October, the start of the safe ''sailing season.'' It lasts until April, and tens of thousands of persecuted Rohingya Muslims are expected to be among those who set out from Burma between now and then.

Thailand's traffickers are clearly ready and waiting.

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