Rohingya Vision

Inside Thailand’s trafficking crackdown

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Inside Thailand’s trafficking crackdown
July 10
11:03 2015

BANGKOK (Reuters) – Sheltering in the backroom of a provincial Thai police station is a 35-year-old street vendor who triggered a human trafficking investigation that has reverberated across Southeast Asia.

He is a Rohingya Muslim, a mostly minority group from western Myanmar. He had scraped a living for the past decade selling fried bread, or roti, from a push cart in Nakhon Si Thammarat, a city in southern Thailand.

Then his nephew fell into the hands of murderous human traffickers.

The roti seller’s desperate bid to save him ultimately led to the discovery of scores of jungle graves on the Thai-Malaysia border in May and sparked a regional crisis over boatloads of unwanted Rohingya.

Now the roti seller fears traffickers could target him. His new home in the police station is a primitive form of witness protection. (Reuters has withheld his identity at the request of police.)

His predicament raises questions about the long-term effectiveness of Thailand’s crackdown on resilient and lucrative trafficking syndicates. Witnesses have been intimidated, police say. Key suspects are represented by lawyers with powerful political connections. And while 72 people have been arrested, police are still seeking many others.

Thailand’s investigation comes ahead of a new U.S. report card on its anti-trafficking efforts, due out in mid-July. Police spearheading the campaign on the ground told Reuters they encountered official indifference about the evidence they had gathered on trafficking networks – even after the U.S. State Department identified Thailand in June 2014 as one of the world’s worst trafficking offenders.

Katrina Adams, a spokeswoman for the State Department’s East Asia and Pacific Bureau, said this year’s report only covers the year to March 2015, and thus would not include Thailand’s latest crackdown.

“We welcome Thailand’s law enforcement actions, including the arrests of dozens believed to be involved in migrant smuggling and abuses against migrants, which may include human trafficking, in southern Thailand,” Adams added.

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