Minister slammed for 'turn camp into tourist site' idea (The Straits Times)

PETALING JAYA – A Malaysian minister has come under fire for proposing to turn an abandoned human trafficking camp near Malaysia’s border with Thailand into a tourist attraction.

Malaysian police last month found 139 graves around 28 camps scattered along a 50km stretch of the border in the northern state of Perlis.

The dense forests of southern Thailand and northern Malaysia have been a major stop-off point for smugglers bringing people to South-east Asia by boat from Myanmar, most of them Rohingya Muslims who say they are fleeing persecution, and Bangladesh.

Minister in the Prime Minister’s Department Shahidan Kassim, who visited one of the jungle camps near Kampung Wang Kelian on Sunday, described it as “very nice” with complete facilities, including a mosque, house and vegetable farm.

“Let tourists see where it all happened. With this as a new tourism spot, it will also deter human trafficking activities from taking place as there will be more people coming in and out,” said the former Perlis Menteri Besar.

Opposition leaders and human rights groups were flabbergasted at Datuk Seri Shahidan’s idea.

Ms Syerleena Abdul Rashid, political education director for Democratic Action Party’s Bukit Bendera women’s wing, said Mr Shahidan had “shocked the nation” with his “upsetting” comment, the Malay Mail Online reported.

“The callous statements made regarding the refugee crisis, from Day One, have shown his utter lack of compassion and empathy,” she wrote in a statement. “His recent proposal to turn tragedy into profit is unsettling and is especially hurtful to those who have lost their loved ones…”

Humans Rights Watch Asia division deputy director Phil Robertson said it would be ghoulish to turn the site into a tourist spot.

THE STAR/ASIA NEWS NETWORK, REUTERS