Tue 10 Dec 2013
Filed under: ASEAN,Ethnic Issues,Human Rights,News
Thailand has pledged to help with any investigation into a report that Thai immigration officials moved Burmese refugees into human-trafficking rings.
However, aides to Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra declined to comment directly on the allegations contained in the investigation by the Reuters news agency.
The United Nations and the United States called on Friday for an investigation into the report, published on Thursday and based on a two-month investigation in three countries.
Reuters correspondents detailed a clandestine policy to remove Rohingya refugees from Thai immigration detention centres and deliver them to human traffickers waiting at sea.
Prime Minister Yingluck, who chairs a government committee on human trafficking, declined to comment on the findings when asked about her reaction.
“I cannot comment on the Rohingya issue and reaction as this is the responsibility of the Foreign Ministry to handle,” she said in a comment delivered through an aide.
“The ministry will liaise with the United States and the UN to help with any investigation they need.”
Tens of thousands of stateless Rohingya have fled violence in Burma by boat and many arrive off southwestern Thailand.
After being delivered to human traffickers at sea, the Rohingya are 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 urge the Thai government to conduct a serious and transparent investigation into the matter,” said US State Department spokeswoman Marie Harf.
Pol Maj General Chatchawal Suksomjit of the Royal Thai Police was quoted in the Reuters report as saying that there was an unofficial policy to deport the Rohingya to Burma.
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 Burma.
These statements, however, were at times produced in the absence of a Rohingya-language translator, Reuters found.
Nine people have been arrested in Thailand in relation to Rohingya smuggling in 2013, including two government officials, according to police data.
None of the arrests have led to convictions.