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Captive Rohingya pray in a police cell north of Phuket this week

Hundreds of Boatpeople Held North of Phuket: Anti-Trafficking Vigilantes Seek to Save Thailand's Reputation

Saturday, November 8, 2014
PHUKET: Residents and police arrested hundreds of boatpeople on the coast north of Phuket last night as a people's revolt against human trafficking in Thailand grew and claimed its largest success so far.

First reports said that the boat from Burma (Myanmar), apprehended off the Andaman province of Ranong, included 23 women and 13 child passengers. Four or five people accused of being ''brokers'' are also in police custody, local contacts told Phuketwan.

Leading the team that will question the boatpeople today is Colonel Grissak Sommoonnark, once the superintendent of police in the Phuket holiday hub of Patong, who has signed an anti-trafficking MoU with Takuapa district chief Manit Pleantong from the neighboring province of Phang Nga.

The pair worked together when both were previously posted to Kuraburi, a fishing port on the border between the two provinces north of Phuket where human trafficking has been allowed to flourish over the past five years.

The Rohingya and Bangladeshis apprehended overnight were discovered by locals on a boat among mangroves near the township of Kaper, another key transfer point on the trafficking trail that leads would-be refugees south through Thailand to abusive treatment in secret jungle camps close to the border with Malaysia.

A provincial police boat - one of several naval forces along the Andaman coast - led the arrest of the 299 boatpeople, latest among scores who have recently arrived north of Phuket as the exodus of Rohingya, driven by ethnic cleansing, grows to record numbers.

Earlier this week, after the capture of 78 boatpeople in Ranong, eight plain-clothes officers from southern Thailand were spotted in Ranong province, driving four pickups. Could it be that they were in the region to transfer boatpeople south?

No, they said, they were investigating claims of illegal fuel being sold off the coast.

''There is no illegal fuel being sold off this coast,'' Khun Manit told Phuketwan. ''Next to tourism along the Andaman, the only industry of note is human trafficking.''

Khun Manit is continuing his campaign to end human trafficking in Thailand. But breaking open the secret trade in people that shames his country is not easy.

As this week's newly-arrested boatpeople were to be processed to international standards, Khun Manit called on local officials from the Social Development and Human Security Ministry to help.

''Can't it wait?'' they told him. ''We'd really like to celebrate the Loy Kratong festival tonight.''

Reaction further south in Phang Nga province has been more enthusiastic.

Christian, Buddhist and Muslim volunteers there have been helping to end a massive coverup that allows police to process all boatpeople as ''illegal immigrants'' without the need to question closely whether they are actually victims of human trafficking.

But the issue faced by Khun Manit and Colonel Grissak today will be whether the new process of determining human trafficking is used on the latest boatpeople or the old, easy-to-do process. The pair will need the help of volunteers and activists.

If boatpeople are found to be human trafficking victims, it falls to the Social Development and Human Security Ministry to fund their support in Thailand. The ministry has no budget to cope with thousands of potential human trafficking victims.

Before Khun Manit's team of volunteers discovered the 78 boatpeople this week, they found a smaller group of 24, wearing traffickers' colored wristbands, on Tuesday.

Some of the faces were familiar.

Those familiar faces had been part of an earlier group that was arrested by Khun Manit last month and determined by police in Takuapa to all be ''illegal immigrants.''

Processed in a perfunctory fashion and transferred to the Immigration office in the Thai-Burma border port of Ranong, the boatpeople had been quickly recycled into the arms of ''brokers.''

Those familiar faces quickly found themselves deposited back on the coast of Thailand.

The traffickers' revolving door remains in operation, recycling would-be refugees into the coastal provinces of Thailand along a trail that leads south to brutal extortion, rapes and deaths in the secret jungle camps.

Thailand was dropped to the lowest level on the US State Department's Trafficking in Persons register earlier this year and is likely to remain on Tier 3 until it shows serious intent to deal with the issue.

Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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I was laughing to read...Saving Thailands reputation'... As the whole worlds knows officially about that present reputation due to being downgraded to Tier 3 of the US State Department Trafficking Person Register, Thailand has passed the station of 'saving'. Thailand has to start to work hard to build a NEW reputation.

Posted by Kurt on November 8, 2014 09:53

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8 Plain-clothes policemen from the SOUTH(?), with 4 pick up trucks in Ranong province to investigate claims of illegal fuel being sold?? PhuketWan, this must be a 'joke'. Must of the police force are not shining in intelligent levels, but they can't be that stupid in reasoning their presence their.

Posted by Kurt on November 8, 2014 10:03

Editor Comment:

Perhaps they were just enjoying the sunshine.

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eight plain-clothes officers from southern Thailand were spotted in Ranong province, driving four pickups

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this *un-cover-up* is so much relevant in every aspect of it

Posted by Sue on November 8, 2014 13:53


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