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Young women and children, spotted on a Rohingya boat on January 1, 2013

Phuket Reporters Aim to Pursue Justice for Boatpeople in 2014

Wednesday, January 1, 2014
PHUKET: In the early hours of New Year 2013 we had been in Patong, checking on a beach party that Paris Hilton promoted, but few people on Phuket wanted.

We stopped at a car crash near Patong Hill. Before rescuers could cut the driver free, he died.

January 1 last year produced another surprise for Phuketwan's fifth birthday when we joined other reporters by intercepting a boatload of 73 Rohingya off Phuket.

What saddened and shocked us was the presence of women and children on the boat.

Men and teenage Rohingya boys had been sailing for years but for the first time, exactly a year ago today, we now knew that whole families were being forced to flee persecution and ethnic cleansing in Burma.

''The children waved to us as the speedboat pulled away to head back to Phuket,'' we reported. We posted not just one article but two articles on the Rohingya families that day.

''Rohingya Children Now Fleeing 'Certain Death' in Burma,'' said one headline. ''Will These Phuket Boat Children End Up For Sale by Human Traffickers?'' said the second.

We tried to track the treatment of the families but by the following day, they were being transported by truck north along the coast they'd just traversed to Ranong, the port on the border with Burma.

''Phuket Boat Families Trucked Back to Burma Border in Tears,'' said the headline. ''Most Rohingya sent back to Ranong end in the hands of people traffickers who organise for them to travel south again in a boat, provided they can pay a new fee,'' we wrote.

Sure enough, we learned from a senior Army officer, within 48 hours of arriving off Phuket the men, women and children had been placed on another boat in Ranong and ''helped on'' towards Malaysia.

Days later - perhaps even because Phuketwan had revealed that women and children were now fleeing on Rohingya boats - a series of raids took place on secret human trafficking camps in southern Thailand.

Hundreds of boatpeople were ''rescued'' and the Thai government announced it hoped to find new homes for them and to settle their status and future within six months. As the year wore on, it was disheartening for us to have to report that the plan was destined to fail.

Now we know that an ''industrial strength'' people smuggling operation using larger vessels is underway to shift thousands more Rohingya south to Malaysia, risking their lives on boats and in the hands of smugglers who are sometimes brutal killers, the Rohingya say.

Covering this enduring saga of misery and mistreatment brings us no joy. In January five years ago, we revealed that the Thai military was involved in inhumane ''pushbacks'' that led to the deaths of hundreds of men at sea.

An investigation was promised into that abuse. In the intervening years, investigations have been promised into other alleged abuses. No investigations have ever taken place.

Of all the kinds of corruption we have encountered in Thailand, the one that fills us with the greatest horror is the one that involves the trafficking of thousands of human beings along the Andaman coast, into secret camps where abuses continue, and across the border to Malaysia.

More Thais are learning about this shocking process, and more Thais are becoming disenchanted with a covert process that appears to embrace deceit, corruption, killings, rapes and even forms of slavery.

As a new year begins, we are extremely grateful to Captain Panlob Komtonlok for falsely suing us for criminal defamation on behalf of the Royal Thai Navy.

We believe that thanks to the captain, the appalling treatment of the Rohingya will now finally receive the worldwide attention it deserves. And there will be no hiding place for the men in uniform who tarnish Thailand's reputation by their actions.

We look forward in 2014 to finally getting our job done, even if getting our job done means going to jail.

Phuket News Story of The Year 2013:
http://www.nationmultimedia.com/specials/nationphoto/show.php?id=30&pid=16667/

Navy Uses Computer Crimes Act to Sue:
http://phuketwan.com/tourism/navy-captain-uses-computer-crimes-act-sue-journalists-criminal-defamation-19413//

Phuket Reporters Prepared for Prison:
http://www.bangkokpost.com/news/local/387125/reporters-prepared-for-prison-in-navy-defamation-lawsuit/

Comments

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Thailand has some very difficult challenges ahead this year. Hopefully you'll reconsider your decision instead of getting lost in the Thai penal system. Excellent article to kick off the new year.

Posted by gee on January 1, 2014 13:44


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