Grim discovery shines a light on Rohingya

The recent discovery of at least 32 bodies in Thailand’s Songkhla provinceThe recent discovery of at least 32 bodies in Thailand’s Songkhla province has highlighted the horrific plight of the Rohingya – an oppressed ethnic minority from Myanmar.

Justice and International Mission unit director, Dr Mark Zirnsak said the plight of the Rohingya serves as a stark reminder of the vulnerabilities of displaced peoples.

“We have campaigned for years against slavery so we are well aware of the dangers those sold into slavery face,” he said.

Rohingya people are denied citizenship in Myanmar and often flee religious persecution only to fall victim to human traffickers.

In search of safety and work in Malaysia, many Rohingya are sold into slave labour or perish from disease and starvation in remote human trafficking camps.

Images emerging from Thailand (such as the above) depict authorities exhuming skeletal remains from shallow graves in thick jungle close to the Malaysian border.

Human trafficking in South East Asia is a significant problem with thousands being trafficked throughout the region each year. Many suspect regional authorities have been complicit with various human trafficking networks.

Phuket-based Australian journalist Alan Morison is, along with Thai journalist Chutima Sidasathian, facing defamation charges related to publishing reports of Thai Royal Navy authorities being complicit in human trafficking.

As editor of Phuketwan Mr Morison has written extensively on the fate of Rohingya trafficked in the region. He said many more bodies were likely to be uncovered in abandoned trafficking camps in various remote areas.

“With the discovery of bodies buried near a disused traffickers’ camp in the jungles of southern Thailand, the issue has finally become front-page news in Thailand,” Mr Morison said.

“More bodies will be found in other camps all over the Thai-Malaysia border region and along the holiday coast north of Phuket, where boat people are usually hidden in mangrove islands before being trucked south to the Malaysian border camps.”

Chutima Sidasathian witnessed one of the exhumations on a mangrove island north of Phuket.

“The body that was brought up belonged to a pregnant woman, the forensic police said. A couple of lace petticoats had been buried with her,” Ms Sidasathian said.

“We can only imagine what she must have gone through as a stateless boat person, pregnant and a long way from her home, deprived of just about everything in a rough mangrove camp.

“Most of the people involved in the exhumation were extremely young and they were all clearly affected.”

Thai authorities have reportedly transferred 50 officers away from the area over suspected connections to human trafficking networks and several arrests have been made in Thailand in relation to trafficking.

With growing international media coverage highlighting human trafficking in South East Asia there is renewed hope the Thai military government will take wide-ranging steps to intervene.

“We’ve been reporting on the torture, abuse, rapes and murder for years,” Mr Morison said.

“To have the government react and the story on the front pages at last is a victory.

“Now what needs to happen is for the ethnic cleansing that drives the Rohingya into the sea from Burma to be halted, once and for all.”

For more information on supporting advocacy campaigning on behalf of displaced peoples contact the Justice and International Mission Unit on (03) 9251 5271 or email jim@victas.uca.org.au

Image courtesy of Phuketwan

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