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Young Phuket fans among thousands at the anti-trafficking film this weekend

Film Turns Tide on Thai Human Trafficking

Sunday, April 5, 2015
PHUKET: Thousands of Muslims on Phuket and along the Andaman coast are flocking to see a newly-released movie that urges an end to the trafficking of Rohingya boatpeople throughout Thailand.

'Ameen' is clearly aimed at turning Thailand's loyal Muslims away from human trafficking. Its screening follows closely on the grassroots uprising north of Phuket, where volunteers in the district of Takuapa are striving with no official support to end the trade in humans in Thailand.

The film's most violent scenes involve a brutal gang employed by a rich ''mafia'' boss. They abuse and kill caged Rohingya boatpeople and beat down local opposition.

It's a reasonably accurate depiction of what's been happening in Thailand over at least the past decade. With no enforcement against the traffickers, villagers along the Andaman coast have joined in the sordid trade in surprisingly large numbers.

Police in the film are depicted as the good guys, yet the fact is that men in uniform along Thailand's west coast have frequently chosen to turn a blind eye to the on-selling of humans, with their tolerance paid in blood money.

The film urges Muslims to end their tacit acceptance of trafficking and take action on moral grounds. 'Ameen' is made by the White Channel and is Thailand's first halal movie.

After being invited to review the film, which has English subtitles, Phuketwan editor Alan Morison said: ''All the discussion in Bangkok about combatting this appalling trade will remain so much hot air until the traffickers and their paid helpers are behind bars.

''There has been a lot said at high levels lately and that's positive, but not much has changed along the Andaman coast.

''The hero of this movie suffers from amnesia and has lost his way. The symbolism is there for all to see: Thailand has forgotten its morals and also needs turning around.''

THE FILM has been well-received across Thailand's south in Pattani, Narathiwat and Songkhla and will be screened next along the Andaman coast in Krabi, Trang, Phang Nga and Ranong - the heartland of Thailand's human trafficking.

Volunteers north of Phuket should be among the film's most enthusiastic audience. They have already realised the damage being done to Thailand by trafficking, and are trying to do something about it.

One lesson learned by a growing number of volunteers who are now actively battling human trafficking in Thailand is the surprising extent of the trade in people.

With their quest now moving into the sea along the mangrove-coated coast north of Phuket, volunteers have been surprised to find remnants of traffickers' camps on every one of the 45 islands in the subdistrict of Bang Naisi.

Scores of other sub-districts and hundreds of islands dot the Andaman coast stretching north to Thailand's border with Burma.

Without a doubt, hundreds of disused traffickers' camps can be found there.

''It's plain that the trafficking industry grew through Thailand and that thousands of people must have been kept captive off the coast,'' one volunteer told Phuketwan on a patrol through the mangroves last month.

Another said that a few years ago, it was not unusual for bodies to be found floating in the water. ''There were times when we would find bodies every day,'' he said.

The two men preferred to remain anonymous because, although the grassroots movement against trafficking in Thailand is growing, there are also many people living along the coast north of Phuket in the provinces of Phang Nga and Ranong who have made small fortunes from buying and selling boatpeople.

Most of those being smuggled through the jungles along the western coast of Thailand to hiding places along the Malaysian border are Rohingya Muslims, fleeing persecution and privation in the Burmese state of Rakhine.

Among those being transported south on specially-equipped trawlers these days are also Bangladeshis, enticed to join the stateless Rohingya by touts who talk of better jobs in more prosperous Malaysia.

The lies are believable and the outcome remains far less palatable. Phuketwan continues to receive telephone calls from a teenage Rohingya who is a work-slave in a Malaysian restaurant.

He wishes he had never clambered over the wall of a family shelter in Thailand, enticed by the false promises of a human trafficker.

QUANTIFYING whether real progress has been made in Thailand's fight against human trafficking is difficult.

While there's talk in Bangkok of a change in thinking, evidence of increased arrests and prosecutions is thin along the Andaman coast.

One encouraging sign is the warnings being handed out by the Army's tough Internal Operations Security Command, which safeguards the Thailand-Burma border.

Senior officers have been calling in and warning people suspected of human trafficking. The captains of vessels that have clearly been modified to carry people, not fish, are also being warned.

Arrests, though, are few because the trafficking industry in Thailand has attracted plenty of practitioners in the era since the exposure of the inhumane ''pushbacks'' in 2009.

The ''pushbacks'' policy was replaced by ''helping on'' at sea, where the Royal Thai Navy provided boatpeople with food and water on condition they did not land in Thailand.

Those boats that did manage to evade the Navy patrols were also ''helped on'' on land by willing villagers who became the connection to the more experienced traffickers along the Thai-Malaysia border.

Over years, free of concerns of arrest or prosecution, the trade in people through Thailand flourished, with authorities turning a blind eye and persuading themselves that allowing boatpeople passage could be justified, even if money changed hands.

''WE LEARNED the hard way,'' said a volunteer. ''We found the bodies. At first, we stayed silent.

''Then we learned of the deaths in camps, of the rapes, of the beatings. We learned of the big guys behind the scenes.''

Intimidation is still happening. Volunteers who join the team under Takuapa district chief Manit Pleantong expect to get telephone calls from the traffickers, who are their neighbors.

They expect family members may be verbally abused. The cash from trafficking has been spread widely among many coastal villages.

Khun Manit may have been among the first to analyse what was happening and understand that trading in people, whether it was defined as people smuggling or human trafficking, was intrinsically wrong.

Late last year, he set up a roadblock near Takuapa, manned by volunteers 24 hours a day, and since then has gone after the local traffickers.

The outcome is still in jeopardy. It will take good Buddhists and Muslims to turn the trafficking tide together. And films like 'Ameen' will certainly help.

Declaration of Interest

Phuketwan journalists Chutima Sidasathian and Alan Morison are being sued by the Royal Thai Navy for criminal defamation and a Computer Crimes Act count over a 41-word paragraph republished from a Reuters series on Burma's Rohingya boatpeople. The series won a Pulitzer Prize.

The Royal Thai Navy's precedent-setting military-versus-media action predates last May's Army takeover in Thailand. The trial resumes in July. Maximum penalty for the pair is seven years' jail.

WATCH How Trafficking Works
Phuketwan Investigative reporter Chutima Sidasathian, still being sued for criminal defamation over a Reuters paragraph: ''It's worse and worse, day by day. Nobody cares''.

LISTEN The Rohingya Solution
A tragedy almost beyond words has been unfolding in Thailand, where a human smuggling network is thriving with the full knowledge of some corrupt law enforcement officers. Alan Morison of Phuketwan talks to Australia's AM program.


Comments have been disabled for this article.


Dear Editor and khun Chutima

I congratulate both of you for continuing to shine a light on the very dark world of industrial scale human trafficking. It is never pleasant to read about the countless lives being torn apart by this evil trade but it is an unpleasant truth that the world needs to be aware of.

There are many bad people in the world. There is always hope though when good people like Takuapa District Chief Manit Pleantong, his volunteers and many brave journalists are taking a stand.

Ian Yarwood
Solicitor - Perth, Western Australia

Posted by Ian Yarwood on April 5, 2015 18:13


Where this movie is screened? In SFX cinemas? Somehow I don't see it in the schedule.

Or on private screens?

Posted by Sue on April 6, 2015 06:41

Editor Comment:

Gymnasiums and community halls.


I wholeheartedly agree with Ian. Well done Alan and Chutima. You have put your personal freedom on the line in order to gain international recognition of this heinous practise. You are brave and dedicated people and I salute you for what you have accomplished for Human Rights.

Posted by Sam Wilko on April 6, 2015 18:20

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