Thai military accused of trafficking refugees
PM By Southeast Asia correspondent Zoe Daniel
Updated Mon Mar 11, 2013 11:45pm AEDT
There are mounting allegations the Thai military is trading Rohingya refugees from Western Burma to human traffickers.
Last week PM broadcast allegations that Thai military officers shot and killed Rohingya off the Thai coast but there is also continued accusations that Thai officials are involved in selling Rohingya to brokers, who then sell them on as bonded labourers.
The ABC has also discovered that unaccompanied children, who are arriving on the boats and others who have arrived with a parent, have been left alone in shelters while their parents are locked up.
Unsupervised in the shelters the children are vulnerable.
Seven children have already disappeared from a shelter and there is concern they may have fallen prey to human traffickers.
It is something that is difficult to police amid continuing accusations that Thai authorities are caught up in the trafficking business.
A man in hiding, who agreed to speak to the ABC, maintains that the Thai navy intercepted the boat he was on and then facilitated a handover to a broker.
"The navy asked if we had food to eat and where we were from," he said. "They said don't tell anyone the Thai navy has seen you."
He says the navy directed the boat to land at Ranong on the Thai coast where it was met by a human trafficker who 'bought' the human cargo.
He explains he was beaten when he tried to escape.
"I was punched and my hands were tied up," he continued. "They burnt me on the back."
While his friends and family raised more than $1,000 to pay the broker for his freedom, he says dozens more remain in the camp.
"They said why don't you give us money, we bought you, why did you try to escape?"
A recent military investigation found no Thai officers were involved in human trafficking.
Fleeing by boat
Unwanted in western Burma, where violence between ethnic Rakhine Buddhists and Rohingya Muslims has seen the Rohingya attacked, they have been forced to flee by boat and are now isolated.
Dozens of women and children at shelters in Thailand are recovering from their arduous journeys and are now isolated.
"Our houses were burnt down, so there are 16 families that came from our village," Rohingya woman Rujambibi told the ABC.
Since the violence flared in Burma's Rakhine state last year, some 5,000 to 6,000 Rohingya have arrived in Thailand.
They have described scenes of fiery terror in the villages they called home as they were burnt out of town.
"When we were on the boat the food finished in two days," said Nulu, who got on a 15-day boat journey with her three children and 110 other people.
"There was raw rice but we couldn't cook it, there was no water."
Incredibly, Nulu gave birth to her fourth child on the boat; an already stateless boy, born in transit.
But at least her son has his mother; 10-year-old Anamuddin fled to the boat alone after his house was burnt and his mother and six siblings were killed.
"Rakhine people slashed her," he said. "Shot her and burnt the house."
Anamuddin says he took a boat in the hope of finding his father who left to find work in Malaysia five years ago.
"I went just like that," he continued. "I just followed others. I didn't have my mother or anyone left."
Eleven-year-old Marmoth, who lost his mother during the violence, is also looking for his dad who has been taken into detention by Thai authorities. He and his younger brother are alone.
Meanwhile, there is now concern for the safety of four Rohingya men who told the ABC last week that Thai officers had fired on refugees off the country's coast, and killed two of them.
Villagers who were sheltering the men say they went to the local mosque to watch television on Sunday night and have not been seen since.