Bangkok, 21 Rabiul Awwal 1436/12 January 2015 (MINA) – Thai police on Sunday intercepted a convoy of vehicles transporting 98 Muslim Arakan (Rohingya) through the south of the country, according to local media.
A Arakan woman died of exhaustion shortly after the operation, reported Manager online.
It added that the migrants had been crammed in the back of the five pick-up trucks and they had clearly been deprived of food for some time.
Since violent clashes between Buddhists and Muslims in Western Myanmar in June 2012, tens of thousands of Arakan have fled oppression to Thailand through the “service” of human smugglers in the hope of crossing into Malaysia to find work. World Bulletin quoted by Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA) as reporting, Monday.
Many of them travel via sea to Thailand’s coast where they are frequently joined by others fleeing Bangladesh where a large Arakan population lives in refugee camps.
Once in Thailand’s south, many are detained in secret camps in the jungle, where they are forced by human traffickers to ask their families back home to send money for them to be released.
Relying on intelligence, Thai police had set up a checkpoint in Nakhon Sri Thammarat province, said the report. When the officers spotted a column of vehicles progressing towards them, they launched the operation, stopping four of the pick-up trucks and an SUV, while other vehicles managed to escape. Two of the drivers were arrested, but three others fled the scene.
Police said they found 98 Arakan stacked at the back of the vehicles and in an “extreme state of weakness.”
A manager reported that one of the drivers said he picked them up on the coast in Phang-Nga province and was driving them to Songkla, a province close to the Malaysian border.
Thailand was downgraded by United States authorities to the lowest ranking in its yearly Trafficking in Persons Report in June 2014 for “systematic failures” in combatting human trafficking.
U.S. president Barack Obama, however, has since decided not to impose sanctions on Thailand, a close ally in the region.
Stung by the downgrading, Thailand’s May 22 post-coup government has underlined plans to prioritize the battle against the traffickers.
In December, junta chief and Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha, ordered a crackdown on trafficking in all fields: fishing industry labor, child labor, migrant workers and sexual exploitation.
“Today, we are being monitored, and we need to take the lessons we have learned to assess the problem of human trafficking and solve it,” he told a then meeting of government agencies heads.
“We have taken several measures in the past but they have yet to be completed. We need to improve on both efficiency and legal measures.”
Since June last year, the military authorities have tried to regulate the hundreds of thousand migrant workers in Thailand mostly from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos by giving them legal status.
The government said at the beginning of this month that around a million migrant workers had been registered. It is estimated there are between 2 to 3 million migrant workers in Thailand.
Arrests of human traffickers and interceptions of groups of migrants being smuggled through the country have become more frequent in the last four months. (T/P002/R03)
Mi’raj Islamic News Agency (MINA)