Rohingya at the Khao Lak shelter watch a reenactment of the June escape Photo by phuketwan.com
By Chutima Sidasathian and Alan Morison
July 14, 2013
PHUKET: Authorities are disturbed that one Rohingya woman among a group who escaped from a shelter north of Phuket this week is due to give birth any day now.
Complications are feared and as it is the woman’s first birth, she had been booked into a well-equipped Phuket hospital. Now she could be forced to give birth while on the run.
Her decision at such a critical time to flee over the wall with two other women and four children raises still more questions about traffickers and Thailand’s treatment of its Rohingya captives.
While about 1700 men have been held as virtual prisoners since January in cramped conditions similar to jails in Thai Immigration centres, several hundred women and children have been relatively well treated in family shelters.
Even though the shelters are reasonable accommodation, the women and children have absconded in large numbers, highlighting Thailand’s failure to provide proper care.
Worst of all has been the lack of information. The detainees have never been told and still do not know what their fate will be. Their biggest fear is that they might be sent back to Burma, where most believe they would be killed.
The trip to Malaysia from Burma, which they throught would take a matter of days, has so far extended to six months.
And with no end in sight and no no more information available, even a woman who is due to give birth is not prepared to wait a moment longer.
What makes the escape by the latest group even more difficult to understand is that the previous group of women and children who escaped last month were allegedly subjected to abuse and rape by a trafficker, aided by a local police officer.
The pair were probably not operating alone. .
The family shelter in Khao Lak in Phang Nga is at the centre of a human trafficking zone where Rohingya are traded by the boatload during the safe April to October ”sailing season.”
With income short, the local traffickers have turned their attention to the women and children in the shelters, where staff are hard-pressed to sort local residents who offer genuine help from those looking to cash in by aiding the Rohingya to flee at a fee of about 50,000 baht per adult..
Staff at shelters have bonded with Rohingya despite the inability to fully understand each other. Instead of providing trustworthy translators, the Thai authorities have simply left each shelter to its own devices.
The result is that traffickers, often part of the local Muslim community, generally have infiltrated as ”translators” and networked with the women and children, negotiating with relatives before urging them to abscond.
The pregnant woman who went over the wall this week has a husband waiting in Malaysia and its likely that is where she and the others will be taken.
Around Khao Lak and the port of Kurabiri, some of the prime trafficking suspects have the continuing support of local Muslim leaders and the local police.
The way for the Thai Government to stop escapes is to provide authorised translators at each shelter and to ease the fears of the Rohingya by providing reliable information about their futures.