Humanitarian or human trafficker?

Humanitarian or human trafficker?
BURY: Thai Muslim villagers and rescue workers place coffins, which contain the remains of Rohingya migrants, into a grave in southern Thailand. Hundreds of refugees have died at the hands of human smugglers.

To the world, he is a philanthropist, eager to help the less fortunate.

But this former Myanmar refugee and his Malaysian business partner are allegedly raking it in by trafficking hapless refugees.

In an exclusive report, The Star said that the Malaysian authorities are closing in on these two men, aged in their 40s and 50s.

They have been linked to the trafficking of Rohingya and Bangladeshis into the country along the Malaysia-Thai border, the report said, quoting unnamed sources.

It claimed that the duo are well-known figures in George Town, Penang, and that the Myanmar man had set up base in Malaysia about 20 years ago.

He is also believed to be involved in issuing fake MyKad (Malaysian IC) and UNHCR (United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees) documents for Rohingya who had entered Malaysia illegally.

WELL-CONNECTED

The Myanmar man has permanent resident status, is well-connected and donates generously to religious bodies and non-government organisations in Penang.

The Star quoted the source as saying that they are working on how these two men set up a link with an international human-trafficking syndicate.

The duo are believed to have started off by hiring locals to smuggle diesel, rice and other items in and out of Thailand, before moving on to human trafficking.

The report said the returns were better because the pick-up points along the border were manned by Thai syndicate members linked to them.

The sources said the illegal Rohingya and Bangladeshis were forced to pay a fee of RM7,000 (S$2,600) each to armed Thais of the international syndicate when they arrive at the border.

Those who failed to do so were killed or left behind to starve.

Meanwhile, a Thai national who allegedly owned a boat that was recently discovered by the Myanmar navy crammed with more than 200 migrants has been arrested, state media said yesterday.

The 53-year-old man was detained in the country's biggest city Yangon, the Global New Light of Myanmar reported, adding that his capture was made after authorities exchanged "information with Thai police".

The paper said the man operated under a handful of Myanmar aliases, adding that his Thai name was Naingnutpatunsantun and that he came from Thailand's Ranong province.

"He was said to have contacted human-trafficking gangs in Bangladesh and trafficked people into Thailand and Malaysia," the report said.

It did not say when the arrest was made or what the man was charged with, AFP reported.

Earlier this month, Myanmar's navy discovered more than 200 bare-chested men in the hull of a wooden, Thai-registered fishing vessel.

It was the first rescue the navy made since Myanmar came under increasing pressure to stem the exodus of persecuted Rohingya Muslims from its shores.

This came after a Thai crackdown on the lucrative regional smuggling trade left thousands of desperate refugees stranded on land and sea after gangmasters abandoned them.

On Friday, a second vessel filled with more than 700 refugees was discovered by Myanmar's navy in the Irrawaddy delta region.

Myanmar has insisted all those found on the first boat are Bangladeshi nationals and has vowed to return them there, although it is not clear if they have been allowed to cross or if Rohingya from Myanmar were among the group.


This article was first published on May 31, 2015.
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