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A graveyard for Rohingya boats in Phang Nga, Thailand, pictured in 2008. Thousands stream south looking for sanctuary and find smugglers instead

Thai Military Profiting from Trade in Boatpeople, Says Special Report

Wednesday, July 17, 2013
PHUKET: A special report released by the news agency Reuters today incriminates the Thai navy in people-smuggling along the Andaman coast north of Phuket.

''A Reuters investigation, based on interviews with people smugglers and more than two dozen survivors of boat voyages, reveals how some Thai naval security forces work systematically with smugglers to profit from the surge in fleeing Rohingya,'' the news agency reports.

In one interview, an unnamed smuggler alleges that a broker in Burma (Myanmar) ''typically sends a passenger list with a departure date to a counterpart in Thailand.

''Thai navy or militia commanders are then notified to intercept boats and sometimes guide them to pre-arranged spots.

''The Thai naval forces usually earn about 2000 baht per Rohingya for spotting a boat or turning a blind eye, said the smuggler, who works in the southern Thai region of Phang Nga [north of Phuket] and deals directly with the navy and police.

''Police receive 5000 baht per Rohingya, or about 500,000 baht for a boat of 100, the smuggler said.''

The Reuters report, compiled over weeks of research in several countries, is likely to bring more questions in Thailand, where Andaman coast villagers and Rohingya also say that renegade military officers take part in people smuggling.

The report makes the point that navy patrols do not always work with the smugglers. ''Some follow Thailand's official 'help on' policy, whereby Rohingya boats are supplied with fuel and provisions on condition they sail onward,'' the Reuters team writes.

The report continues: ''Anti-trafficking campaigners have produced mounting evidence of the widespread use of slave labor from countries such as Myanmar [Burma] on Thai fishing boats, which face an acute labor shortage.

''Fishing companies buy Rohingya men for between 10,000 baht and 20,000 baht, depending on age and strength, said the smuggler in Phang Nga.

''He recounted sales of Rohingya in the past year to Indonesian and Singapore fishing firms.

''This has made the industry a major source of US concern over Thailand's record on human trafficking.
''About 8 percent of Thai seafood exports go to supermarkets and restaurants in the US, the second biggest export market after Japan.

''The Thai government has said it is serious about tackling human trafficking, though no government minister has publicly acknowledged that slavery exists in the fishing industry.''

In the past when allegations of involvement by the Thai military in mistreatment of Rohingya or smuggling have been made, all requests for independent investigations or military investigations have been rejected.

The special Reuters report goes on to detail a visit to the Immigration centre in Phang Nga where at one point 269 Rohingya men and boys ''lived in cage-like cells that stank of sweat and urine . . . some used crutches because their muscles had atrophied.''

On a more recent visit, Phuketwan discovered that conditions had improved - although seven deaths have been recorded in another Immigration centre at Sadao, in Songkhla province.

About 2000 Rohingya men, women and children are being held in Thailand pending a government decision on their status and future.

Reuters adds: ''Dozens of Rohingya have escaped detention centers. [Most of the escaped have been by women and children from family shelters.]

''The Thai smuggler said some immigration officials will free Rohingya for a price. Thailand's Foreign Ministry denied immigration officials take payments from smugglers.''

The report adds that according to the advocacy group the Arakan Project, at least 800 people, mostly Rohingya, have died at sea in the past year, mostly fleeing ethnic cleansing or repression in Burma.


Comments have been disabled for this article.


"Thailand's Foreign Ministry denied immigration officials take payments from smugglers." Well there you go, it doesn't happen, or is it time for an HONEST, informed and diligent Thai Foreign Minister

Posted by Phuket_IOC on July 17, 2013 13:32


If these reports are proven true and I doubt Reuters would publish claims they can't back up, there is a systematic modern day slavery network run in collusion with Thai Authorities.

Your average Thai does not seem to care and sees migrants merely as a commodity open for exploitation but the western target market nations for Thai exports in general abide by far more humane standards.

If it was not for the political importance of having Thailand as a western ally amidst Communist regimes in the region, you can bet boycotts and sanctions would already be in place.

Fortunately the political situation has mellowed down considerably since the mid 70s and both Vietnam and Cambodia have significantly improved ties with the US. Even Laos has toned down the rhetoric.

This might undermine the strategic importance of Thailand and open up new possibilities to the US trade policies.

US has an appalling history of supporting unpalatable regimes for strategic reasons but in this day and age where information about abuses and atrocities flow free and at lightning speed, it will be a much tougher sell to the American voters.

Futile as it may be but from now on I will stop buying any Thai originating fishery products in addition to my personal Red Bull ban.

My dog loves the Pla Kapong with rice but I doubt she minds switching to meat products.

Posted by (Doubting)ThaiMike on July 17, 2013 15:16


ThaiMike, I feel the same as you, in fact I have posted on my Facebook, a request that people boycott all fish products from Thailand, with a request that they forward my post, to their friends.

Posted by Phuket_IOC on July 17, 2013 18:12


One thing is that they the boat refugees sometimes end up here and may get abused, but another more important issue is to get to the root cause of the problem and remove the reason for them to do this risky travel. Western democracies ... are now bending over backward to get their businesses into Myanmar and all the talk about human rights get tugged away and just gets dusted off and used whenever there is a photo opportunity . Exactly as with China and previously with Vietnam..

Posted by Sailor on July 17, 2013 20:59


I feel sick down to my stomach when I read news like this. How despicable can people be, just amazes me.

Posted by Tbs on July 17, 2013 23:37

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