The neglected plight of the Rohingya Muslims continues to go from bad to worse, as a report reveals that those who attempt to escape religious violence in Myanmar are being sold to human traffickers in Thailand.
Rohingya Muslims, who are most heavily concentrated in Myanmar’s Rakhine State, have been on the receiving end of years of violence from Buddhist extremists. Entire Rohingya villages have been burnt down, mosques destroyed, women raped and men beaten to death by angry mobs. In some cases, Rohingya men, women and children have been burned alive.
The Myanmar authorities have refused to grant them citizenship, labeling them as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Those who have attempted to escape to Bangladesh have also been greeted with a similar attitude, as Bangladesh also refuses them citizenship as well as rights to asylum. Most of the time, they are simply turned away, forced to return to a life of persecution.
Their statelessness makes them some of the world’s most vulnerable people, with no rights & No Land for protection. Many cram into small fishing boats attempting to cross the sea to Malaysia, Indonesia and Australia, seeking relief from their never-ending pain. They pay traffickers whatever little they have to sneak them into Myanmar’s southern neighbor, Thailand, with the aim of trekking across the country unnoticed so they can set sail from its south-eastern coast. Even then, shipwrecks have claimed the lives of many before they could reach their destination.
Those who are caught by the Thai authorities do not experience a better fate. They are held more months in crowded refugee camps and prisons with poor conditions while the authorities work to secure their return to Myanmar. However, as Myanmar does not recognize them as citizens, the Myanmar government wants nothing to do with them and refuses to authorize their return.
Meanwhile, the Thai authorities, who are faced with a constant influx of Rohingya immigrants entering their borders illegally, have thought up an alternative scheme to relieve their country’s already overcrowded prisons of Rohingya.
According to a report by Reuters, Major General Chatchawal of the Royal Thai Police in Bangkok revealed an unofficial covert method, known simply as ‘option two’, to achieve this. This involves re-trafficking the Rohingya back to Myanmar. However, after the Rohingya are put on boats back to Myanmar, they are told that they have been sold by the Thai authorities to human traffickers, and are later taken to the jungle where they are held in secret camps by armed guards in inhumane conditions.
The Rohingya Muslims are beaten, forced to work as slaves, and exposes to the elements. Every day, Rohingya Muslims die in these camps as a result of starvation and disease. Those who try to escape are hunted, caught, tortured and eventually killed. The only way out is if prisoners are able to contact a relative who can raise enough money to cover their ransom. As for those who have no such relatives or are unable to contact them, they spend months in these illegal camps. It is believed that the number of Rohingya men and women at one particular camp fluctuates between 500 and 1000, depending on the number of new arrivals and those who manage to be freed. It is not known how many camps similar to this exist in the jungle.
Nonetheless, some are able to escape, trekking bare-footed for hours if not days through the jungle. Reuters managed to speak to three young men who managed to escape one of the camps in Thailand, who exposed the whole story, before they left once again in an attempt to return home.
Although the Major General Chatchawal, who also gave his testimony in the report, said that Rohingya were only sent back to Myanmar after signing a statement in the presence of a Muslim scholar, he failed to mention that the witness often did not know the Rohingya language and was unable to communicate what the statement meant before they signed. Chatchawal also acknowledged that some corrupt officials have in the past, and may still be doing so at present, sold deportees to human traffickers.
He also acknowledged the existence of camps that were being used by illegal Rohingya immigrants as a stop-off on their way to and from Myanmar, which he said were in breach of Thai law. However, he denied that the Thai authorities were systematically selling Rohingya migrants to human-traffickers. “Once they’ve crossed that border, that red line in the sea, they are Myanmar’s responsibility,” he said, admitting it was possible the Rohingya were intercepted by brokers and that human-traffickers may be exploiting them at the camps for money.
As for the Rohingya Muslims, they remain hidden in the darkest shadows of this world, reaching out for a helping hand with whatever remaining strength and hope they can muster, while the international community continues to turn a blind-eye to the atrocities that they suffer every day. Having been persecuted, raped, tortured, murdered en masse and expelled from their homes, they have been left with no choice but to beg at the doorsteps of their neighbors for mercy, only to find every door they knock on slammed shut in their faces. As if being left to scavenge for survival on the cold pavement isn’t enough, it’s almost as if they are being spat on and kicked by every passerby. Regardless, whatever the fate of the Rohingya Muslims may be, should the ongoing process of ethnic cleansing continue to go ignored, the result will be on the conscience of each and every one of us.
The United Nations called on Friday for an urgent investigation into allegations in a Reuters report that Thai immigration officials moved Myanmar refugees into human trafficking rings, Reuters reported.
The above report, published on Thursday and based on a two-month investigation in three countries, revealed a clandestine policy to remove Rohingya refugees from Thailand’s immigration detention centers and deliver them to human traffickers waiting at sea.
The Rohingya, stateless Muslims from Myanmar, are then transported across southern Thailand and held hostage in camps hidden near the border with Malaysia until relatives pay ransoms to release them, according to the Reuters report. Some are beaten and some are killed.
“These allegations need to be investigated urgently,” UN refugee agency spokeswoman Vivian Tan said in a statement. “We have consistently asked countries in the region to provide temporary protection, including protection against abuse and exploitation.”
Major General Chatchawal of the Royal Thai Police in Bangkok said in the report there was an unofficial policy to deport the Rohingya to Myanmar. He called this “a natural way or option two.” But he said the Rohingya signed statements in which they agree they want to return to Myanmar.
These statements, however, were at times produced in the absence of a Rohingya language translator.
“The detainees also need to be informed about their options in a language they understand. Any decision to leave must be voluntary, and those who choose to leave must be protected against abuse and exploitation by smugglers,” said Tan.
A senior official at New York-based Human Rights Watch criticized Thailand for moving detainees into established smuggling and trafficking rings and warned Thailand could face a possible downgrade in a U.S. list of the world’s worst offenders in fighting human trafficking.
Clashes between Rohingya Muslims and ethnic Rakhine Buddhists exploded in Myanmar last year, making 140,000 people homeless, most of them Muslims. Since then, tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled from Myanmar by boat.