|Rohingya migrants sit inside a temporary shelter at a rubber plantation near the Thai- Malaysian border in Sadao district of Songkhla province. (Photo – WICHAYANT BOONCHOTE)|
January 12, 2013Fears grow of US human trafficking downgrade
Authorities have pledged to look after the 704 Rohingya migrants rounded up in two raids.
The promise comes amid growing concerns that Thailand could face a downgrade on a US human trafficking watch list and risk sanctions by the US.
Immigration officers and police yesterday found a second group of 307 Rohingya migrants including more than a dozen children in a warehouse on the border with Malaysia.
They were found in Ban Dan Nok in Sadao district of Songkhla and were waiting to be transferred to a third country, authorities said.
On Thursday, authorities rescued a different group of 397 Rohingya migrants locked up at a shelter in a remote rubber plantation, also in Sadao district.
The group were staying in a makeshift shelter in the plantation where they had languished for three months waiting to be trafficked to a third country, police said.
Acting on a tip-off, officials stormed the shelter on Thursday and found the Rohingya.
“They are now waiting for deportation which will be done by Thailand’s immigration police,” Lt Col Katika Jitbanjong of Padang Besar police said.
“They told officials they had volunteered to come to Thailand,” he said, adding police were seeking an arrest warrant for the Thai landowner on charges of human trafficking and sheltering illegal migrants.
Pol Maj Thanu Duangkaewngam, the inspector at the Songkhla immigration office, said police will investigate and find those responsible for smuggling the migrants into the country.
The migrants will have to be deported back to Myanmar.
Pol Col Krisakorn Pleethanyawong, deputy chief of the Songkhla provincial police, said officers had detained eight people – four Myanmar nationals, two Rohingya and two Thais – who had smuggled the 397 migrants.
They have been charged with smuggling and sheltering people illegally, as well as possessions of firearms.
Police will also summon two suspects for questioning. One of them is Prasit Lemlae, deputy mayor of the Padang Besar municipality, who owns the rubber plantation where the 397 Rohingya migrants were discovered.
National police chief Adul Saengsingkaew yesterday told his subordinates to visit the migrants and find ways to ensure they are well looked after pending their deportation.
The Social Development and Human Security Ministry will also allocate money to help the migrants, Pol Gen Adul said.
The police force’s anti-human trafficking division will send its staff to work with local police to track down the human trafficking network which links Thailand, Myanmar and Malaysia, he said.
The 704 migrants have now been separated into two groups.
A group of 105 women and children have been sent to the Songkhla Children and Family Shelter and the male migrants have been moved to shelters at the Sa Dao immigration office, and nearby local police stations.
Meanwhile, Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubamrung will take foreign diplomats including those from the US and the Pacific region and the EU to visit Samut Sakhon where many migrant labourers work.
The visit is meant to assure foreign countries that the government is making a serious effort to solve and prevent illegal human trafficking.
Thailand has been on the US government’s Tier 2 Watch List in the Trafficking in Persons Report for the past two years.
The US will review the status again next month. If Thailand makes the Tier 2 list for a third time, it will be automatically downgraded to Tier 3 – the lowest classification and the same level with North Korea – which could mean that non-tariff sanctions are imposed.