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Ismail. on Phuket: beaten as a slave then bought for 40,000 baht

Secrets of Thailand's Trade in Men, Women and Children Revealed: Boatpeople and Modern Slavery

Sunday, January 20, 2013
PHUKET: How do stateless Rohingya men, women and children, generally regarded as the most downtrodden people in the world, end up as slaves with a price on their heads in Thailand?

With Army chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha's admission yesterday that renegade officers engage in human trafficking, the process should be revealed for all the world to see.

BBC and Aljazeera teams are about to expose the horror of Thailand's trade in human flesh. And today, Phuketwan can reveals the details of the process.

Many of the boatpeople, seeking sanctuary from violence and hatred in Burma, still believe they are being ''helped on'' by the Thai military when their boats are intercepted in the Andaman Sea.

Many of those interceptions occur around the international holiday island of Phuket, in the same waters traversed by tourists on day-trips.

Only when the Rohingya are in the trafficker's secret camp will they be told: ''You are a prisoner. There is a price to be paid for your freedom.''

Why are women and children now fleeing for the first time, in the same boats as their Rohingya menfolk?

With the destruction of their houses or their confinement through ethnic cleansing, conditions in their homeland, the Burmese state of Rakhine, are now unbearable.

This week one Rohingya mother told Phuketwan that she was raped by a Burmese soldier some 18 years ago, giving birth to twin boys as a result.

Since the fresh violence in June, her two teenage daughters had been raped by a new generation of Burmese soldiers almost every night, she said.

Phuketwan cannot confirm the mother's story but it does help to explain why families are fleeing . . . and they sail straight into the hands of equally evil people in Thailand.

The Andaman coast brokers have become increasingly brazen in the knowledge that nobody in authority is prepared to stop them.

Visitors are making constant requests to take children, one of the welfare centres for recently-rescued Rohingya women and children north of Phuket reported today. The children are now being closely watched.

THE ROHINGYA boatpeople put to sea either with or without brokers in ricketty open boats from southern Bangladesh, or from northern or central Burma.

Aid agencies have managed with difficulty to record departures from Bangladesh and northern Burma. The boats leaving from around the crisis zone township of Sittwe are virtually undocumented.

Small boats with brokers on board, generally crowded with as many paying passengers as is possible to fit with little room to move, will generally aim for Thailand's Similan islands.

Sometimes, boats will leave in a convoy of five, seven or more vessels, perhaps containing a thousand people all told, and monitor each other by sight.

Storms disturb convoys and account for at least four sinkings with the loss of hundreds of lives since the ''sailing season'' began in October. Boats can lose their way and end on the Thai coast.

Depending on winds and currents, after seven to 10 days at sea and with dried rice and water depleted, the boats point towards Thailand.

Those with brokers on board will target specific ports - Ranong, on the Burma-Thai border, Phuket, or Langkawi, a holiday island in Malaysia.

Having aimed for the Similans enables most boats to avoid the Thai military patrols, which are usually active closer to the coast.

The boats with brokers on board usually have prearranged interceptions or will come ashore at a prearranged point. The boat's human cargo can then be transferred for a road trip south to the secret camps hidden in plantations on the Thai side of the Malaysian border.

Three camps were raided recently, with the ''rescue'' of more than 850 men, women and children, but there are known to be many more camps in southern provinces of Thailand yet to be raided.

The camps survive and have grown in number and scale over the past few years because local authorities - and in some cases military and police - are paid to turn a blind eye.

AT SEA OFF the Andaman and Phuket coast, the boatpeople who sail without a broker on board become easy targets.

The Rohingya vessels are usually intercepted by small military boats. The officers on board will not be able to speak Bengali, the commonly used language of the Rohingya.

The officers will have the Rohingya speak to a translator on a mobile telephone, to explain the ''help on'' policy.

In theory, the current Thai policy is to provide water and food and other aid if required so that boatpeople can be assisted to ''a third country'' on condition that they do not come ashore in Thailand.

In practice, the translator is often a broker. The military vessel's captain will ask the boatpeople to follow them . . . and connect with the broker either at sea or along the coast.

Brokers told Phuketwan this week that their preference is to connect with Rohingya boats at sea. The asking price is cheaper that way.

The military have done their job, to ''help on'' the Rohingya, and the pay of some for guarding Thailand's border has received a bonus boost.

Only on shore, in the broker's control as virtual slaves, will the truth become apparent to the Rohingya. They are now captives of a second broker, and they have a fresh fee to pay.

MOST ROHINGYA understand when they sail that they may need to negotiate and pay to cross the border in secret from Thailand into Malaysia.

So they carry the telephone number of a close relative or friend who has access to money, and who can help them.

Ismail, a Rohingya bought for 40,000 baht recently by a Phuket group who wanted only to ''rescue'' someone, suffered severe beatings for weeks because he made one mistake, a mistake that almost cost his life.

A stateless fisherman in Burma struggling to support a family, one day he saw a boat pass him by laden with a cargo of people.

It was bound for Malaysia, he learned, with space for one more. So he jumped on board, telling himself he was doing the right thing for the future of his wife and children.

Now, hidden away on Phuket and recovering from his severe wounds, he has a chance to set things right. Others ends up indentured for up to a year in harsh conditions on trawlers to pay off brokers.

Bit by bit, the ongoing part played by Thailand in Burma's continuing inhumanity to its own people is becoming more widely known.

For the Rohingya, the beatings, the repression and the rapes will continue until the neighboring nations of Burma commit to a loud call for change.


Comments have been disabled for this article.


It will be interesting to see how Asean and its non-interference policy deals with this as AEC approaches.

Myanmar's history of refusing outside help is hopefully going to be tested.

Organized human trafficking across the Thai/Malaysia border has been happening for years.

Having the problem acknowledged as it was today by Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha is big step.

It's what comes next that's important and so far there's been lots of stupid comments mostly based on the cost to Thailand - itself still a recipient of numerous UN payments.

The UN also have a fund for paying host nations per refugee from memory, while I am sure other organizations & NGOs would be willing to assist.

It's the long term status of the Rohingya that needs to be solved quickly, along with rogue military and naval elements.

It's bit hard for people to monitor what happens at sea.

Posted by John on January 20, 2013 13:09


Excellent coverage; keep up the great work!

Posted by Anonymous on January 20, 2013 13:36


For those who have been lucky enough to visit Nepal, you would know that there are many 'camps' of displaced Tibetans, which have been in existence for 50+ years, who are also stateless with few human rights ... though they are at least not persecuted as are these poor Rohingyans. ASEAN will do nothing as always. Whether the UN can is another matter that needs to be addressed most urgently. However, with so much strife around the world & so many needy causes, don't expect any immediate action.

Posted by Logic on January 20, 2013 16:12


Great scoop again.

Posted by Lena on January 20, 2013 16:49


This article explains a lot. Most Rohingya news does not tell the whole story. So basically the problem is as much a problem of Thai greed and Burma cleansing. Again where are those muslim countries who talk the talk but not walk the walk?

Posted by spiritrace on January 21, 2013 01:28

Editor Comment:

Where is the ''new Burma,'' spiritrace? Burma's neighbors are never going to take on its problems, only its trade and investment. Trying to hide the issue won't make it go away. And it's not about religion, but humanity.

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