Sunday, 7 July 2013

Secret Smugglers' Island Raided: Traffickers Paid 60,000 Baht a Head for Travel to Australia, Malaysia

credit-Phuketwan news

By Chutima Sidasathian

Sunday, July 7, 2013
PHUKET: Thai Marine Police raided a secret camp on an island south of Phuket last night and ''rescued'' about 200 men, women and children who were to be ''smuggled to Malaysia and Australia,'' according to initial reports.

The Superintendent of Marine Police in the southern Andaman province of Satun has told media that the group had paid up to 60,000 baht each to be smuggled to both countries illegally.

It has long been suspected that people traffickers have shifted operations to an island off the Thai coast after boats were intercepted and secret camps on the mainland were raided in January, with about 2000 Rohingya still being held in Thailand.

Persecuted Muslim-minority Rohingya, Burmese nationals and Bangladesh citizens were said to be among those being interviewed today on Palutao island, in the middle of a National Marine Park close to the border with Malaysia.

Interviews were being conducted by marine police on the island today. According to one source at an NGO, the people on the island could have been there for months. The safe sailing season for people fleeing Burma in small boats begins in October and ends in April.

However, there have been reports of larger cargo vessels making the journey further out from the Thai coast, to escape Royal Thai Navy patrols. It is believed the men, women and children were told they would be taken to Penang or Langkawi in Malaysia as the next stage in their journeys.

The capture of 200 more trafficking victims will seriously stress Thailand's capacity to hold more would-be refugees. There are 2000 Rohingya men, women and children scattered across Immigration centres and family refuges throughout Thailand.

Five deaths have been reported since January among men being held at one Immigration centre, Sadao, in Songkhla province. With Ramadan arriving next week and Muslims obliged to fast between sunup and sundown, grave fears are held for the wellbeing of all the men being held in cramped conditions with little exercise or access to medical care.

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