NGOs Call on Thailand to Better Protect Rohingya Refugees, Victims of Trafficking
A group of NGOs has marked the anniversary of the 2015 Andaman Sea migration crisis by calling on Thailand to end “arbitrary and indefinite detention” of refugees from Myanmar who came ashore then, and do more to protect survivors and witnesses of human trafficking.
“Thailand’s policies and practices towards Rohingya refugees are putting lives at risk and must be addressed immediately,” Amy Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, one of six NGOs that issued a joint statement after convening a one-day forum in Bangkok on Wednesday.
“The Thai government should ensure protection for Rohingya refugees and human trafficking survivors without delay.”
More than a year after close to 3,000 Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar and undocumented Bangladeshi migrants landed in Thailand, Malaysia and Indonesia in May 2015, after human traffickers had abandoned them at sea, Rohingya refugees are still being held at Thai detention centers and state-run shelters, said the half-dozen NGOs that advocate human rights and rights for migrant workers and refugees.
The crisis escalated when Thai authorities launched a crackdown on human trafficking and imposed a maritime blockade on smugglers’ boats that were trying to reach Thailand’s Andaman coast. The crackdown and blockade followed the discovery in the jungle on the Thai side of the border with Malaysia of graves containing the bodies of at least 36 undocumented people.
Ninety-two suspects including a Thai general are being prosecuted for human smuggling in Thailand as a result of the crackdown. Their trial is the largest even human-trafficking case in Thailand’s history.
“It’s encouraging that Thailand has taken steps to combat the vast network of human traffickers that have long preyed on the desperation of Rohingya refugees,” Siwawong Sukthawee of the Migrant Working Group (MWG), one of the forum’s organizers, said in the joint release.
“But it’s not enough. Much more needs to be done to protect survivors. In many ways, the crisis continues,” Siwawong added.
When contacted by BenarNews on Thursday, Lt. Gen. Nattathorn Phrohsunthon, chief of the Thai immigration police, declined to comment on criticism contained in the statement from the NGOs.
But a spokesman for the Thai junta did respond to it briefly.
“The government understands this problem well. We will convene agencies involved and will have a press release sometime. Let us have a meeting,” Major Weerachon Sukhontapatipak told BenarNews.
In their statement, the NGOs pointed to a resolution adopted by the Thai cabinet on March 15 which, if implemented would provide protective legal status for survivors of human trafficking and also grant official protection to witnesses testifying in human trafficking trials.
The NGOs first welcomed news of the resolution’s passage three months ago, but now they are voicing concern because the government has not yet implemented its provisions, according to the joint statement.
As of December 2015 Thailand’s Ministry of Justice had provided formal witness protection to only 12 out of approximately 500 witnesses who were expected to testify in the trial of the 92 defendants, according to Fortify Rights.
The Rohingya refugees were fleeing religious persecution in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, where members of this Muslim minority are not recognized as citizens.
According to Papop Siamhan, the anti-trafficking coordinator at the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF), Thai authorities have wrongly classified them as undocumented migrants.
“Most Rohingyas were trafficked by some groups of people – human trafficking brokers. But the police and attorney general documented the cases as if they were illegal migration only. The court was persuaded into seeing the cases as mere illegal migration,” Papop told Wednesday’s forum.
Source: Benar News