PHUKET: Five young Rohingya boys who fled a family shelter north of Phuket are likely to be offered as ''slaves'' to Thai fishing boat captains in the next few days, Phuketwan
The boys are today being held in a secret hideout in Surat Thani province, along with one woman. Twelve other Rohingya women and children are scheduled to be trafficked via a border crossing from Thailand to Malaysia this afternoon.
One usually reliable source who has talked to the ''broker'' engaged in buying and selling these boatpeople says that the 12 have been purchased by family or close relatives in Malaysia.
The other five boys and the woman, however, have brought no telephone bids and are likely to be auctioned, the broker told our source.
Human Rights Watch spokesperson Phil Robertson said today: ''The Thai government needs to wake up to the reality that Rohingya women and children in shelters are being targeted by well-connected human trafficking gangs, and those that cannot find money to pay their way to Malaysia will end up being sold into forced marriage, or slaves on fishing boats, or worse.
''Immediate action needs to be taken today to locate and rescue those six Rohingya purportedly being held in Surat Thani, and bring traffickers and any officials involved with these gangs to justice.''
has been able to confirm that at least one of the boys is an orphan who fled the ethnic cleansing in Burma, also known as Myanmar, after his parents were killed there.
The other boys are also likely to have no relatives who can pay for their release. The usual fee is 60,000 baht for an adult and accompanying children travel for free.
However, traffickers generally make money any way they can from young, healthy teenage boys and older males who are not accompanied or who cannot raise the cash to buy their freedom.
The broker holding the five boys is likely to inform fishing trawler captains via contacts that the boys are available, and accept the highest price.
The boys will then be put to work as indentured slave labor on fishing boats. If they survive the dangers and the abuse, they will be released when the captain considers they have earned their freedom.
has not spoken directly to the broker in this case, reporters have spoken to other traffickers and have been told what takes place in these kinds of cases.
One usually reliable source has spoken to the broker who is holding the five boys and the woman.
Staff at the government-run family shelter in the holiday township of Khao Lak, north of Phuket, are concerned at what might happen to the children they have come to know well since January.
The women and children at the shelter, in Phang Nga province, are among about 2000 Rohingya men, women and children being held in Thailand pending a government decision about their status and their futures.
Many of the women and children, despairing at being held indefinitely, have submitted to offers from traffickers to speed their passage to Malaysia, at a price.
The latest group of 18, who fled the shelter at 2am on Sunday, were filmed by a security camera getting into at least one vehicle on the other side of the wall.
One local policeman has been found guilty of assisting traffickers in a previous escape. The policeman, a senior sergeant, has since been dismissed from the force.
Trafficking of Rohingya has been taking place north of Phuket in a more widespread way since community violence in the Burmese state of Rakhine forced homeless and persecuted families to flee 12 months ago.
The number of people fleeing has increased four times over, with an estimated 30,000 people sailing past Thailand or coming ashore and crossing by land on their way to potential sanctuary in Malaysia.
By raiding smugglers' camps on the Thai-Malaysia border and apprehending passengers rather than ''helping on'' boats at sea, Thai authorities exposed high levels of trafficking in Thailand.
The traffickers often have links to various renegade officers in the military or local police, although the military consistently admits that trafficking is taking place but denies its involvement.
reported at the weekend that at least four young men are being treated at Vachira Phuket Hospital after becoming unable to walk because of excessively cramped conditions in cells at Phuket Immigration headquarters.
''Every day that the government dawdles in setting up a larger facility to unite Rohingya families in one place is another day that the traffickers are able to pick off Rohingya in isolated government shelters, or Rohingya men and boys fall gravely ill in harsh, heavily over-crowded detention centers,'' added Mr Robertson, who is HRW Deputy Director, Asia Division.
''A government policy originally created to provide temporary protection to the Rohingya landing on Thai shores has mutated into a much more sinister policy of indefinite detention in inhumane conditions, with the only way out being offered by human traffickers.
''Why can't the Thai government get its act together and solve this problem?''
Although there's a difference between people smugglers and human traffickers, Phuketwan
believes the word traffickers is more appropriate to the trade in boatpeople in Thailand.