July 31, 2015
By Maher Sattar
Thailand is at risk of becoming as well known for the horrors of trafficking as it is for its beaches.
A few weeks ago I came across a strange sight at Dhaka’s international airport.
Just behind the immigration officers’ desks, several rows of men, wearing identical shirts, were sitting, or rather, squatting on th ground.
They were Bangladeshis who were being repatriated by the International Organization of Migration (IOM) after they had been found in Thailand – victims of human traffickers.
I say rows of men, but some of them were just boys.
One of them, Shojib Hassan, told me he was beaten and tortured repeatedly while in the hands of his captors.
Shojib said he was only 16. He looked younger.
Thousands of migrants – whether Bangladeshis or Rohingya – whose hopes of a better life are exploited by traffickers, have been found in Thailand over the past few years.
Many of them have shared similar stories of abuse and extortion. Most notoriously, mass graves of migrants have been discovered in Thailand.
The country is at risk of becoming as well known for the horrors of trafficking as it is for its beaches.
Shojib may have been trafficked from Bangladesh, and his intended destination may have been Malaysia.
But Thailand is a key transit point in this trafficking network, and this is simply not possible without the complicity of Thai nationals, and in all likelihood, Thai officials.
This is why the indictment of a Thai general for involvement in people-smuggling is cause for some guarded optimism.
It is rare to see military officers punished here – even under civilian governments.
But Lieutenant General Manas Khongpaen is the only senior military official charged with these crimes – and few human rights groups working on the issue believe he is the only one involved.
This is one reason why the US has refused to remove Thailand from the lowest tier of its human trafficking watch list.
The charges against Lt Gen Manas is a welcome move, but far more needs to be done.