BANGKOK (Reuters) — Thai police have
rescued hundreds of Rohingya Muslims from a remote camp in a raid
prompted by a Reuters investigation into human trafficking, police
officials said on Monday.
Police detained 531 men, women and children in Sunday's raid at a
camp near the town of Sadao in the southern province of Songkhla, on
a well-established route for human smugglers near Thailand's border
with Malaysia. It was the first raid on illegal Rohingya smuggling
camps since January 9, 2013.
The police said they were following up on a December 5 Reuters
report that Rohingya were held hostage in camps hidden near the
border with Malaysia until relatives pay ransoms to release them.
Some were beaten and killed.
The Rohingya are mostly stateless Muslims from Myanmar, also known
as Burma. Deadly clashes between Rohingya and ethnic Rakhine
Buddhists erupted in Buddhist-majority Myanmar last year, making
140,000 people homeless, most of them Rohingya.
Since then, tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled from Myanmar by
boat and many arrive off southwest Thailand.
The United Nations and the United States called for an investigation
into the Reuters report, based on a two months of research in three
countries, that revealed a clandestine policy to remove Rohingya
refugees from Thai immigration detention centers and deliver them to
human traffickers waiting at sea.
"After Reuters gave us information, we ordered an investigation into
the camps," said Chatchawan Suksomjit, deputy national police chief.
He said they captured three suspected ringleaders at the camp, all
of them Thai males.
Reuters gave the Thai authorities coordinates to one camp near Sadao
which was empty by the time they arrived, but police found another
"From the Reuters report, we received a clue that it was in Kao Roop
Chang (village). But the camp was already moved from there when we
found it. We found only an empty camp there. So we investigated more
until we found the new camp," said Colonel Kan Tammakasem,
superintendent of immigration in Songkhla.
The plight of the Rohingya illustrates the limits to Myanmar's wave
of democratic reforms since military rule ended in March 2011.
Inside Myanmar, they face apartheid-like conditions and, according
to the United Nations, many forms of "persecution, discrimination
Police are trying to identify the origins of those detained after
the raid, not all of whom were Rohingya, said Chatchawan. "We are
interviewing all of them to see if they are victims of human
trafficking," he said.
They are being kept at an immigration detention center in Songkhla.
"We have to interview them and proceed according to Thai immigration
laws," he said. "It will depend on whether they want to go back. If
they are willing we will send them back as we have done before."
Last year, Thailand implemented a secretive policy to deport the
These deportations delivered many Rohingya back into the hands of
smuggling networks and human traffickers, who in some cases ferried
them back to Thailand's secret border camps, reported Reuters.
The raid comes as the U.S. State Department is finalizing its
research for its next Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report, due in
June, which ranks countries on their counter-trafficking
Thailand is Southeast Asia's second-biggest economy and a close U.S.
ally, but has a poor record in fighting trafficking and faces a
possible downgrade to the report's lowest rank, putting it at risk
of U.S. sanctions and potentially placing it on a par with North
Korea and Iran.
Nine people were arrested in Thailand in relation to Rohingya
smuggling in 2013, including two government officials, according to
police data, but none of the arrests has led to convictions.
(Additional reporting by Jutarat Skulpichetrat;
editing by Jason Szep and Robert Birsel)