Illegal immigrants brought in by traffickers housed there: Activist in Thailand
PADANG BESAR (Thailand) – After the discovery of “death camps” in southern Thailand, reports are now trickling in that there may be similar slave camps housing illegal immigrants on the Malaysian side of the border.
A former president of the Rohingya club in Thailand involved in helping refugees, Mr Abdul Kalam, alleged that Malaysia is home to some 80 per cent of the holding camps where young Rohingya and Bangladeshi “slaves” brought in by human traffickers are kept.
Malaysians are also directly involved in the trafficking syndicate, he alleged on Thursday.
Mr Abdul Kalam, who works with Thai police as a translator when Myanmar refugees are rescued, said the slave trafficking camps near the Thai border typically house between 500 and 1,000 people.
“The situation has worsened in the last 10 years, with about 50 camps near the border. There are more camps in Malaysia now as the Thai government has been clamping down on human traffickers,” Mr Abdul Kalam, 58, alleged.
He said refugees in these camps were forced to live in deplorable conditions, with little food and water.
While not making specific accusations against Malaysia, Lieutenant-General Prakan Cholayuth, Thailand’s 4th Army Region commander, said his government was “hoping that neighbouring countries will help in the crackdown of human trafficking activities across the border”.
Kedah’s police chief, Senior Deputy Commissioner Zamri Yahya, however, has refuted allegations that such camps exist on the Malaysian side of the border.
“There’s no such thing. As far as we know, the camps are only on the Thailand side. On the Malaysian side, the police, including the Border Intelligence Unit, the General Operations Force, special teams from Bukit Aman and other enforcement agencies, are working together to curb illegal immigration and human trafficking activities,” he said.
Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha yesterday called for a three-way meeting with neighbours Malaysia and Myanmar to try to resolve the human trafficking crisis.
General Prayut has said the problem had to be “jointly tackled”, while insisting that it did not “originate” in Thailand, which was just a transit point.
He said migrants arrested in Thailand would be taken care of. “They will be charged with illegal entry. After that, they will be detained, not jailed.”
Over the past few days, the Thai authorities have discovered abandoned jungle camps in Songkhla where mass graves have been found.
Mr Abdul Kalam said yesterday that he believed Malaysians were directly involved in the human trafficking syndicate on the Thai side of the border.
“Several refugees who have spent time at these camps have heard conversations taking place in Bahasa Malaysia.
“I have told my people in Myanmar not to come to Malaysia because they may be kidnapped and beaten by human traffickers, but they don’t believe me,” he said.
Mr Abdul Kalam, who has been living in Thailand for more than 30 years, said his fellow nationals were lured by human traffickers with promises of good jobs, but were instead sent to hilltop camps.
“They come by boat, about 500 people crammed into one boat. They charge each person RM7,000 (S$2,600), which they have to pay once they start working. But they get cheated. Traffickers send them to camps and ask for ransom from their families,” he told The Star.
Speaking in fluent Thai and broken English, he said that those who did not pay up or attempted to run away would be beaten, some to death.
“Once money is paid or when someone is willing to ‘buy’ the Rohingya, they will be sent to Malaysia.
“Over there, people wait in a car to pick up the refugees,” he said.
THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE