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Vicious circle awaits Rohingya refugees in Thailand

Source: Reuters - Thu, 5 Dec 2013 03:33 AM
Author: Reuters
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ATTN EDITORS: NO REPORTER NARRATION

(SOUNDBITE) (English) REUTERS SOUTHEAST ASIA BUREAU CHIEF, JASON SZEP, SAYING:

"We are in the thick jungles of southern Thailand. Just over the ridge over there is a camp that the Thai government doesn't want you to know about. Inside that camp there are hundreds of stateless Muslim Rohingya from Myanmar. They have been brought here by traffickers. Many are beaten, many are abused, many are held against their will, and many are sold."

Since 2012, Reuters' Jason Szep and his team have been following the plight of Rohingya Muslims

Fleeing persecution in Myanmar by sea to Thailand,

Where many hope to find passage to Malaysia

What many encounter, instead, is a hostage situation

(SOUNDBITE) (English) REUTERS SOUTHEAST ASIA BUREAU CHIEF, JASON SZEP, SAYING:

"When someone is held against their will that means that it crosses the line from human smuggling into human trafficking. And what we had heard was that there were these very large camps in Southern Thailand - these kind of smugglers camps where Rohingya who don't have enough money to pay for their passage out of Thailand just basically languish, and in some cases they are beaten very badly, in some cases they are killed."

Szep's team discovered three camps near Thailand's border with Malaysia

Refugees are held until relatives pay thousands of dollars to release them

(SOUNDBITE) (English) REUTERS SOUTHEAST ASIA BUREAU CHIEF, JASON SZEP, SAYING:

"We spent some time talking to villagers, talking to people in southern Thailand. We roamed all around southern Thailand trying to find these camps. And at first it was sort of a needle in a haystack thing, where we knew they were generally in these areas and we just sort of fumbled our way around by interviewing villagers and going to mosques. And then eventually we kind of narrowed it down to a few areas. And then we, through a few interviews, we basically worked out exactly where a couple camps were. But in order to show it for the story, we actually had to get there. So, we found some guides and basically trekked through the jungle for about three hours one day. Really thick jungle with just briars, and at one point we were kind of crawling on the ground trying to get through the jungle to come right up to where camp was. We had to be very quiet, because if the guards saw us or saw the trees moving from our movements outside the camp they could come out. We knew that the guards were armed. So, we didn't actually - when we started going out to these camps - we didn't realize how close we were going to get. But the guide took us very, very close."

Some Thai authorities are complicit in the trafficking chain

(SOUNDBITE) (English) REUTERS SOUTHEAST ASIA BUREAU CHIEF, JASON SZEP, SAYING:

"I think one of the big things that surprised us was just how the immigration authorities in Thailand were willing to take these Rohingya, and instead of trying to move them back to Myanmar or find a way to give them safe passage to Malaysia - in the end basically decided look there's not much we can do here and put them onto boats, where effectively they are putting them back into the hands of traffickers and smugglers who are bringing them back to these brutal camps. I think the authorities, from their perspective, felt that they had no other choice because, indeed, the Rohingya there is very little they can do about the situation. They are stateless. Myanmar won't take them back. Malaysia doesn't necessarily want them. So I think in Thailand, there are no official refugee camps in Thailand, so there is nearly nothing that the Thai authorities can do. And I think they just said ok, let's just try to get them where we think they want to go. They want to go to Malaysia, let's try to help them get there. But in fact what ended up happening is they put them onto boats that were effectively run by the smugglers and the traffickers who took them right back into these camps, and in some cases beat them and said give us some money or else we are going to hold you here. So effectively that becomes trafficking."

The fate of those Rohingya who can't pay their way out is still unclear

ENDS

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