BANGKOK – Thai authorities are to dispatch a team to southern Thailand to try and stem the trafficking of Muslim Rohingya through the region, according to a website report.
Officials from the Department of Special Investigations and the Internal Security Operational Command – the military agency in charge of national security – arrived Tuesday in Phang-nga and Ranong provinces to “begin a probe into whether human trafficking is flourishing along Thailand’s Andaman coast,” reported Phuketwan.
The team are complimented by local official Manit Pleantong, the chief of Takua Pa district – which lies on the Andaman Sea coast just south of Ranong province – who NGO The Arakan Project says “got a bit fed up of all this passage of trafficked persons through his district.”
“He has organized village groups in order to inform him about the presence of ‘transit camps’,” Arakan Project head Chris Lewa told the Anadolu Agency on Tuesday.
The Nation newspaper reported Tuesday that Ranong officials had also trained 400 villagers to “watch out for illegal Rohingya boat people.”
Adding to the problem is the suspected corruption of some local police officers, who Arakan have accused of being complicit in human trafficking. Phuketwan reported Tuesday that among a group of 256 people arrested in a raid on smuggling outfits last weekend were several people charged with smuggling who had been arrested in Phang-nga province a few days before – raising the suspicion that they had been released from custody.
Since June 2012, tens of thousands of Rohingya – persecuted by Myanmar Buddhists and security forces – have fled violence and hardship in Rakhine State in the country’s west in order to seek employment, mostly in Malaysia. Many travel on precarious boats where some – according to testimonies to Arakan from those on board – have been beaten and deprived of food.
There has been a sharp increase in the number of departures since mid-October, with around 15,000 Rohingya leaving Rakhine state on boats since Oct. 15 – compared with 55,000 for the whole of 2013.
Several hundred have been discovered by officials in “transit camps” in southern Thailand, particularly in Ranong and Phang-nga province. Last weekend, local officials discovered 256 people – including 23 women and 13 children – in Ranong province, where they are currently being detained in a community hall.
Arakan Project head Lewa told AA that they had arrived on a boat which was carrying 800 people, but there had been no news on the 544 others he understood to be on board.
“The flow [out of Myanmar] decreased after October 20, and has now stopped, but I am wondering where all those Rohingya have gone. Almost none of them have arrived in Malaysia,” she stated.