South Asian human trafficking on agenda ahead of US report

Thailand indicts 72 human traffickers as annual US Trafficking in Persons report to be released, Myanmar sends more boat migrants to Bangladesh

Photo by: Reuters
Photo by: Reuters

Updated Jul 28, 2015

Thailand indicted 72 human trafficking suspects on Monday, as the US State Department is set to release its Trafficking in Persons report Monday, to demonstrate its ongoing combat against trafficking.

Meanwhile Myanmar sent 155 people who were found on a vessel near the country's shore last May back to neighboring Bangladesh following a verification process of their nationalities, according to officials from both countries.

They were among the 528 rescued from Myanmar’s waters and authorities said they will continue efforts to verify the identities of the rest of the individuals.

The human trafficking crisis emerged in the South Asia after thousands of people, mostly the long-persecuted Rohingya Muslims of Myanmar, embarked on a perilous journey to sea to find safety in neighboring countries.

Thai found mass migrant graves in several jungle camps along its Malaysian border, prompting a crackdown against human trafficking in May. Due to the crackdown, many smugglers abandoned the boats crammed with refugees at sea, triggering a regional migrant crisis and a humanitarian catastrophe.

Thailand hopes to show its efforts on anti-trafficking ahead of annual US report, and announced the country has conducted its "biggest investigation into human trafficking" in Thailand's history, Reuters reported.

Aside from the 72 people who were arrested on Monday, Thai authorities issued arrest warrants for 45 others. Among to the arrested, there are fifteen Thai officials, including a soldier and four policemen.

"We will indict all 72 people who have been arrested. For those people who are still on the run overseas, we will work with national police to send them back, according to existing extradition treaties," the attorney general's office spokesman said during a news conference in Bangkok.

As Thailand hopes to see a change in the US report which lists the country at the lowest "Tier 3" status for not doing enough to combat the illegal practice, Thai junta leader say the latests efforts will be noted.

“We have done our best. I came to solve the problem, which was inherited from the previous government. The government is keen to solve the problem. Our work is systematic and successful,” Anadolu Agency quoted Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-ocha as saying.

During the months long investigation Thailand arrested more than 150 people including local officials, police officers and one military general, raising questions over official collaboration and the long-term effectiveness of the crackdown.

The US report will be released on Monday and it will cover the period from March 2014 to March 2015, making it unlikely to note the latest investigation in Thailand.

Tens of thousands of migrants made the dangerous sea crossing to southern Thailand, on their way to Malaysia and other Pacific nations early this year.

The exodus of the Rohingya, described by the UN as one of the world's most persecuted minorities, has been followed deadly communal unrest in western Myanmar's Rakhine state since 2012.

According to the Arakan Project, more than 70,000 Rohingya and Bangladeshi have left their countries on boats controlled by smugglers since October.

The UN estimates that thousands of migrants are still adrift in the Andaman Sea.

Rohingya Muslims are not considered as citizens by Myanmar because the country claims that they are “illegal immigrants” from Bangladesh, despite having lived in the country for generations.

Rohingya Muslims have been attacked by Buddhist mobs in recent years and thousands of men, women, and children have been subjected to forced migration.

The crisis has put intense pressure on South Asian countries, who initially pushed back the boats packed with hungry, thirsty and ill people, including women and children.

Malaysia and Indonesia offered settlement for those who were rescued for a year, but Thailand has so far refused to comply with demands from the international community. Bangladesh accepted only around 300 people, but the rest remain in border camps, their futures undecided.

TRTWorld and agencies