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Is this boy destined for the Thai border human trafficking trade?

Will These Phuket Boat Children End Up For Sale by Human Traffickers?

Tuesday, January 1, 2013
News Analysis

PHUKET: These photographs may alarm aid agencies working with Burmese boatpeople throughout the region. They should also alarm the members of Asean, where the issue of the ethnic cleansing of Muslim Rohingya is being kept low-key in complicity.

We believe this is the first time children as young as three years of age have been photographed on a Rohingya vessel. The boat also has women on it, too.

Over the years that the Rohingya have been fleeing discriminatory treatment and outright persecution in Burma, the boats sailing south past Phuket in search of sanctuary have consisted of men and boys.

At times, some of the passengers have been very young. A Rohingya boat that landed north of Phuket on November 10 contained 56 teenagers. The youngest boy was 14. Another 46 on board were aged under 26.

In four years of covering the epic voyages of the fleeing Rohingya, we've never seen or heard of women on board - except for one rare case - until today.

And what the leader of the latest group of 74 boatpeople told us today indicated that many more women and young children will be taking to the sea in ricketty vessels.

Why? Well in the past, Rohingya males would protect their women and children by leaving them at home, safe. But since June, when ''community violence'' flared in Burma's Rakhine state, thousand of them have been burned from their homes.

Today there is no longer a safe place - a home - for many Rohingya to leave their women and children. The homes have been destroyed.

The displaced persons camps where thousands now live in squalor are reported to be limited in what they can offer. Children are malnourished. Proper aid doesn't seem to get through to everyone.

Mohamad, 45, leader on the newly arrived boat off Phuket, told us: ''Our families put to sea because there is no hope in Burma. If we stay, we will die.''

So the outcasts are now being forced to flee their homeland in record numbers, with sailings virtually every day. The campaign of ethnic cleansing, tacitly approved by the Burmese government, achieves its aim incrementally with every boatload of Rohingya that takes to the Andaman Sea.

The Rohingya fringe dwellers face the classic choice: the devil or the deep blue sea. And the huge numbers - 10,000 are reported to have already taken to the water this October-April ''sailing season'' - indicate the devil is winning, one way or another.

We were shocked today to see 10 children under the age of 10 on the latest Rohingya boat, along with 14 women, most of whom appeared to be teenagers. Three of the children, two boys and a girl, are aged just three.

To see the kids on the boat today scoffing uncooked noodles, straight from packets provided by the Thai Navy and local police, is an indication of what life has been like for them in the 13 days the open boat has taken to reach Phuket.

Provisions on board consist of dried rice, reconstituted with water. There is no cooking.

These photographs and this story should shame the politicians of Asean - especially in Singapore, Malaysia, Thailand and Indonesia, Burma's near neighbors.

Men and boys have been allowed to drown or to fall into the hands of people traffickers covertly and consistently by this hard-hearted bunch, who maintain the treatment of Rohingya is an ''internal issue'' for Burma and does not warrant interference.

The likelihood of pending deaths of Rohingya women and children this ''sailing season'' should shake even the hard-heads in Bangkok, Kuala Lumpur, Singapore and Jakarta.

The children and families on the stranded vessel are being allowed to sleep tonight on board at anchor off southern Phuket. Rawai is a tourist departure point where international visitors zip past on speedboats or in longtails every day.

The likelihood is that these boatpeople will be ''helped on'' - the term for providing supplies and fuel to keep out the refugees that Thailand doesn't want - first thing tomorrow.

Efforts were being made by Phuket's small Rohingya community tonight to try to prevent these families falling into the hands of the notorious border people smugglers.

Usually Rohingya boats that land in southern Thailand are given over to the traffickers, who charge about 55,000 baht a head for safe passage to Malaysia.

If the passengers cannot pay, they are ''indentured'' as slave labor onto trawlers or into other hard, menial work for as long as 12 months.

It's not known how the people traffickers - called snakeheads for good reason in Hong Kong - would deal with children and young teenage girls.

Asean's coverup of the Rohingya has entered a potentially chilling new period with the arrival of this boat - and with the publication of these photos.

The question is, will the members of Asean now face up to their international obligations and put a stop to this alarming seaborne trade in human misery?


Comments have been disabled for this article.


That photo of the smiling young boy, hand on (presumably) his exhausted mother's shoulder, with the utter grief-filled look of the man in the foreground is powerful and heartbreaking. How can we help these people?

Posted by Lana on January 1, 2013 20:51

Editor Comment:

There's little hope of preventing them from being ''helped on.'' The Royal Thai Navy may be willing to take extra provisions out. You could hire a speedboat for a four-minute ride from Rawai to them. Departure time could be very early in the morning, though. Best let your government know your deep concern and hope something can be done eventually.


We would really like to know the fate of recently Rohingyas boat people which consist of small kids and many young women.I am afraid ,these groups also fall at
the hands of agent (the local official usage) /human trafficikers/Human smugglers as before . As soon as ,this group get free whether in the sea or land ,the waiting organized gang will guide them to the remote forest whether Badambesa or Songkhai golork. The agent will confine them till realize their demand of USD 2000 .
We are very much concern because of a mall babies , many teenaged children and women are included this group.

Posted by Maung Kyaw Nu,President,Burmese Rohingya Association in Thailand,(BRAT) on January 2, 2013 10:36


As I sit here in my comfortable house, sipping coffee at the start of 2013 I am sobered and humbled to think that huge parts of our planet still has suffering like this. I can provide food and water. Is there a charity or organisation i can get in touch with?

Posted by Mr Man on January 2, 2013 12:43

Editor Comment:

Please drop by at Phuket Immigration in Phuket City . . . but you need to be quick.


I emailed the British consulate at making my views known and asking the Ambassador to consider speaking to Burma, Bangladesh and all the ASEAN countries to try to solve this problem.

Posted by Mr Man on January 2, 2013 12:50

Editor Comment:

Only consistent pressure will work.


This is a no win situation. If these people are helped to integrate into Thai society the word will get back and even more people will risk their lives on the ocean.

Posted by Ty on January 2, 2013 13:16


Reports now say they are being repatriated back to Myanmar on their own request.

Posted by Ty on January 2, 2013 14:55

Editor Comment:

At 3.45pm, the Rohingya were being transferred into trucks. There were tears. This does not appear to be a trip these people want to make.


There is good coverage of this on Aljazeera today.After the Tsunami oil rich Muslim a nations stepped forward to help Muslim fishermen. Attracting the attention of charities such as The Kuwait Red Cross may help these desperate people.

Posted by Yvonne on January 2, 2013 15:18

Editor Comment:

Attracting the attention of any charity would help. So would attracting the attention of the UN. Attracting the attention of the region's politicians appears to be impossible.

Thursday July 18, 2024
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