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Thailand trafficking death camp 'just the tip of the iceberg'

Thousands of Rohingyas and Bangladeshis held in dozens of camps along Thai-Malaysian border, says activist

Bangkok Post

Bangkok Post

Updated: May 03, 2015 05:53 PM GMT
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Thailand trafficking death camp 'just the tip of the iceberg'

Officials work through the weekend to recover the remains of 26 people at a trafficking camp in Songkhla (Photo by Pornprom Satrabhaya/Bangkok Post) 

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Thousands of Rohingya people who are possibly victims of human trafficking are being kept in at least 60 detention camps scattered throughout mountains along the Thai-Malaysian border, says a former president of the Rohingya Association of Thailand.

"The discovery of the detention camp [last Friday at Ban Taloh in tambon Padang Besar of Songkhla's Sadao district] is just the tip of the iceberg. Currently there are at least 60 detention camps along the Thai-Malaysian border," said Abdul Kalam on Sunday, adding that about 150-800 refugees are being held in each camp.

Most of the camps are situated on the Malaysian side, he said.

Pol Gen Chakthip Chaichinda, deputy national police chief, assigned by national police chief Pol Gen Somyot Pumpunmuang to lead a human trafficking investigation in the South, said he will meet investigators in Hat Yai district of Songkhla on Monday to verify the number of camps in the area.

"According to the information I have obtained there are many detention camps along the Thai-Malaysian border," Pol Gen Chakthip said.

Lt-Gen Prakarn Chonlayuth, commander of the 4th Army Region, said he will ask Malaysia to conduct more patrols along the border to suppress human trafficking.

Deputy government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd said Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha may consider using Section 44 of the interim charter to deal with human trafficking.

Gen Prayut ordered Deputy Defense Minister and army chief Udomdej Sitabutr to travel to Songkhla today to oversee progress in police investigations.

Meanwhile, Kalam attended the burial ceremony of 20 of the 26 bodies recovered from graves in tambon Padang Besar of Songkhla's Sadao district.

The burial was held at a Muslim cemetery in Hat Yai district.

The bodies of the others are being kept at Songklanagarind Hospital in Hat Yai district for autopsies.

Kalam said he knew of the detention camps from two Rohingya compatriots, whom he helped to escape from a human trafficking network after they fled a detention camp last month.

The men, aged 23 and 30, were lured into a human trafficking network from their homes in Myanmar's Rakhine state.

When they arrived in Thailand a few years ago, they were brought to a detention camp in tambon Padang Besar of Songkhla's Sadao district.

The men said that they were beaten by members of a human trafficking network and forced to work under slave-like conditions while waiting for ransom money to come in from their relatives in Myanmar.

The governments of Thailand and Malaysia need to work together to solve the problem and take legal action against all those involved, regardless of whether they are state officials or civilians, Kalam said.

He played a recording of the voice of 28-year-old Tunusar, a survivor of a death camp for human trafficking victims in the jungle in Songkhla.

He interviewed Tunusar, who was bed-ridden at Padang Besar hospital in Sadao district, on Saturday.

Tunusar was held captive at the camp for nine months after being kidnapped from his hometown in Bangladesh and brought by boat to a jungle camp in Thailand.

"I saw at least 40 people die while I was staying at the camp. Ten were Bangladeshis and the others were from Myanmar or Rohingya. They died because of malnutrition, starvation or being beaten to death," Tunusar said on the clip.

The brokers controlling the camp were men named Hayi, Amartali, Arnua, Saw Lim, Rana and Heidra, he said. He was beaten many times after the brokers called his mother in Bangladesh and learned she didn't have the money to pay his ransom.

Another Rohingya man who was previously jailed at the camp, who wishes not to be named, recounted the horrors he saw to police Sunday.

He said a Rohingya man named Kasim was killed by ‘Mr Arnua’, a well-known Rohingya trafficking broker, at the camp.

Arnua used a heavy stick to beat Kasim, the nephew of a Rohingya man named Kuramia, to death.

Nakhon Si Thammarat police said Arnua had abducted Kasim and demanded a 95,000-baht (about $US2,850) ransom, but the nephew was not freed after the money was sent.

Arnua then demanded another 120,000 baht, prompting Kuramia to go to the police, which prompted Arnua to kill the nephew, they said.

Police arrested Arnua in Muang district on Wednesday and charged him with fraud and kidnapping. They are gathering evidence to prosecute him for human trafficking.

Kuramia had feared his nephew was killed and buried in tambon Padang Besar in Songkhla's Sadao district, which led to the police's discovery of the graves on Friday, police said.

The witness also told reporters that his mother in Myanmar paid ransom money of 6,000 Malaysian ringgit (US$1,670) to free him from the camp prior to its discovery by authorities.

While in the camp, the witness heard news of more than 500 deaths in similar camps along the Thai-Malaysian border.

Tens of thousands of migrants from Myanmar, mainly from the Rohingya Muslim minority but also increasingly from Bangladesh, make the dangerous sea crossing to southern Thailand, a well-worn trafficking route often on the way south to Malaysia and beyond.

The exodus of Rohingya — described by the UN as one of the world's most persecuted minorities — has followed deadly communal unrest in western Myanmar's Rakhine state since 2012.

Rohingya refugees living in Bangladesh have also been kidnapped and trafficked to Thailand, after being duped with fake job offers or even drugged.

Additional reporting by AFP

Original story: Detention camp horrors grow

Source: Bangkok Post

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