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    Thailand, 2013: The Hidden Agony of a 21st Century Slave Trade

    PHUKET:
    Ismail has been bought as a slave, the way hundreds of Rohingya are
    bought in Thailand, a country that is supposed to be free of slavery.


    His
    body still bears the unhealed wounds of a horrendous beating. He says
    he was handcuffed, forced to lie face down and thrashed without
    mercy.

    Held
    captive by modern flesh traders in a strange country, he did what
    uppity slaves always have done – he tried to escape.


    This
    is Thailand, 2013. Ismail’s broken body is a shocking indictment of a
    nation not yet free of corruption and the nightmare that is 21st
    century slavery.


    Ismail’s
    fortune improved a little when he was bought this month for 40,000
    baht by a Phuket community group. These good people wanted to save
    just one slave among the hundreds, possibly even thousands, still
    being abused in Thailand.

    The
    recent catalogue of raids on Thai-Malaysia transit border camps where
    Rohingya men, women and children are being traded for cash shows the
    despicable underbelly of modern Thailand.

    Until
    recently, the flesh trade has been allowed to flourish, with local
    politicians running the camps and officials getting their corrupt
    cut.

    Raids
    in the past few days have ”rescued” hundreds of Rohingya but, as
    Ismail revealed to Phuketwan last night, other horror camps remain
    untouched.

    The
    47-year-old Rohingya, stateless like 800,000 others in Burma, left a
    wife and seven children near Sittwe, a large town in hate-ridden
    Rakhine state, on November 14.

    He
    paid 200,000 kyat to a people smuggler to take his chances among 61
    passengers who included four women and six children. They boarded an
    old open boat to sail to a brighter future, somewhere, anywhere.

    The
    boats of people smugglers puttered out to meet them off the coast of
    Ranong, the port on the border between Thailand and Burma.

    Transferred
    into a convoy of minivans, Ismail and his fellow travellers sped
    south, past the international holiday island of Phuket, to a
    captives’ camp at Su Ngai Kolok in the province of Narathiwat.

    There,
    his torment began. Over about 40 days and nights, Ismail learned the
    reality of Thailand’s modern slavery.

    Ordered
    to raise fresh cash to earn his freedom, Ismail failed to contact the
    one person he thought could help, his sister-in-law in Malaysia.

    The
    number rang, and rang. There was never an answer. Each day in the
    camp brought fresh agony.

    He
    and hundreds of others, he says, were each fed just two spoonfulls of
    rice a day, one in the morning and one in the evening.

    When
    he could bear it no longer, he fled into the surrounding jungle. He
    did not get far.

    Brought
    back by armed guards, he was stripped, handcuffed, and held on the
    ground. He was then flogged with a cane.

    ”I
    did not see who did the beating,” Ismail said. ”But it was very
    painful. They flogged the heels and soles of my feet as well.”

    Just
    to make sure Ismail did not forget, his tormentors burned his back
    with a candle flame and stabbed him in the leg with a sharpened
    construction rod.

    Captive
    Rohingya children looked on and heard his screams. When the beating
    ended, there was no medical treatment, nothing for the gaping wounds,
    he said.

    On
    January 5 when Ismail arrived on a bus to greet the Phuket group who
    had saved him by raising 40,000 baht and paying it to his captors, he
    was still barely able to shuffle.

    When
    he stripped to show his back and legs to the group, some of them shed
    tears. It is hard to imagine such a thing happening in Thailand in
    2013.

    Other
    captive slaves had been killed by floggings or shot dead trying to
    escape, he said. Burmese, Thais and Rohingya too were among the
    traffickers.

    Many
    of those who cannot raise cash for a passage to Malaysia are sold off
    to slavery on fishing boats.

    The
    pain and suffering of being a stateless Rohingya must at times seem
    never-ending.

    In
    the ethnic cleansing perpetrated by the Burmese government since
    June, Ismail’s village was not torched the way that so many others
    have been, he said.

    The
    Buddhists who were once the neighbors of the Rohingya were removed,
    leaving the unwelcome Muslims in isolation. With nine mouths to feed,
    Ismail said it quickly became apparent that life was going to be made
    unbearable.

    The
    two kilos of rice he needed each day to feed his family could no
    longer be purchased because Army patrols always took most of his
    catch of fish.

    With
    a heavy heart, he boarded a boat and farewelled his children, five
    boys and two girls, the youngest aged three.

    In
    a country where Rohingya remain persecuted and oppressed, the future
    of Ismail’s family remains as uncertain as his own. On Phuket now,
    kept hidden from authorities, he has a chance.




    Thailand, 2013: The Hidden Agony of a 21st Century Slave Trade

    By Chutima Sidasathian