Officials blamed for boat people crisis, survey finds

Officials blamed for boat people crisis, survey finds

While the authorities say human trafficking is the major cause of the migrant crisis, a new survey conducted in migrant communities in Ranong points the finger at corrupt officials.

Nearly 80 per cent of respondents in the migrant communities in the southern province who were sampled in the survey, conducted by Thai researchers for a community happiness group, said the involvement of state officials in trafficking was the biggest obstacle hindering a solution being found.

Another 42.7 per cent suggested that laws and regulations are other factors that make the issue more complicated and difficult to solve.

A Rohingya migrant, Sanina, said illegal migrants had to pay state officials monthly to avoid arrest. Many of them paid "brokers", who claimed they could obtain documents showing that they were allowed to live and work in Thailand, he said.

Thailand relaxed its laws and regulations by granting permission to millions of migrants from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia to live and work here temporarily. Migrants who are qualified to live and work here must go through a national verification process.

Rohingya who take boat journeys on the Indian Ocean will not be able to apply for work permits because Myanmar has refused to recognise them as national citizens.

Bangladeshi boat people are also barred from obtaining work permits.

According to Sanina, who has lived in Thailand for 20 years, the only way for Rohingya to survive in Thailand is to purchase a Thai ID card.

A provincial official in Ranong who requested anonymity said it was possible for Rohingya to get an ID card but it was more difficult these days after a major scandal over the sale of cards broke years ago. A lot of officials were subsequently discharged from their positions and punished, he said.

The authorities now have a very strict process in place when issuing ID cards, he said.

Colonel Suthipong Zhongpakdi, deputy commander of the Internal Security Operations Command in Ranong, admitted that the involvement of officials in human trafficking had been clearly seen as police had issued arrest warrants for many officials.

"The officials found guilty will definitely face punishment for their crimes, and the officials considered to be involved in human trafficking, but who could not be charged for the lack of solid evidence, will be sent to military camps for an attitude adjustment," Suthipong said.

Deputy Prime Minister and Foreign Minister Tanasak Patimapragorn admitted last week when Thailand hosted a special meeting on irregular migrant movement on the India Ocean that high-ranking officials were involved in human trafficking.

But the four-star general, a former supreme commander, said no military officers were involved.

Thailand began to crackdown on human trafficking syndicates when the country was last year downgraded by the United States to the lowest tier in its annual Trafficking in Persons report.

The authorities have issued arrest warrants for 81 suspects believed to be involved in trafficking rings. Of those, 51 suspects have been arrested.

The syndicates have strong connections in Thailand, Myanmar and Malaysia.

Myanmar authorities earlier held a 53 year-old Thai national who allegedly owned a boat recently found by the Myanmar navy crammed with more than 200 migrants.

The traffickers moved migrants via border crossings connecting Thailand to Malaysia.

Malaysian officials recently discovered mass graves in border areas, similar to what Thai officials found in Padang Besar in late April.

Malaysia's The Star newspaper reported that six routes discovered along the Malaysia-Thailand border are believed to be human trafficking and goods-smuggling "rat" trails.

Nor Mahizan Kasim, chairman of the Kampung Syed Omar Village Development and Security Committee, said the syndicates had used the routes for more than 10 years.

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