Thai human trafficking record dealt fresh blow
At least 32 graves were discovered yesterday at what is thought to be a human-trafficking camp near the Malaysian border.
Four bodies exhumed from graves were suspected to be Rohingya Muslim refugees.
A team of more than 100 police and military officers, local officials, forensic officials and rescue workers examined the remote camp atop Khao Kaew mountain in tambon Padang Besar in Songkhla’s Sadao district.
It is only 300 metres from the northern Malaysian state of Perlis.
Located in the jungle on the mountain, the camp covers about two rai. Of the 39 structures built in the camp, 26 are sleeping quarters, and the rest are kitchens, bathrooms and an observation tower, police said.
The camp is old and has been in use for a long time, according to police.
Authorities also found an area covering one rai about 50 metres from the camp.
The area was cleared of trees and used as a graveyard with about 30 old and new graves.
A search of the camp found a dead man identified as Kutansa who was believed to have been dead for a few days. Police also found an ill migrant and took him to Padang Besar hospital.
Forensic officers collected used clothes and other equipment left at the scene for evidence in any police investigation.
Rescue workers dug up five graves, but found only four bodies. Officers believe the bodies had been in the graves for several days as they were decaying.
Digging was suspended until the appropriate authorities are sent in to verify the identity of all the bodies in the graves. The four bodies have been sent to Songklanagarind Hospital to be identified.
Pol Maj Gen Ekkaphob Prasitwatthanachai, deputy chief of the Provincial Police Region 9, said that at this stage authorities cannot tell how many bodies are buried in the more than 30 graves that have been found.
The Police General Hospital’s Institute of Forensics has been asked to send officials to help, Pol Maj Gen Ekkaphob said.
He said that maybe fatigue or illness could have caused the deaths while the suspected refugees stayed at the camp waiting to be sent to other countries.
Pol Maj Gen Thawatchai Pitaneelabutr, commander of the Immigration Division 6, said there are three human-trafficking groups involved in smuggling of Rohingya refugees in Songkhla.
The groups only smuggle in the refugees and put them in the camp temporarily before sending them to third countries, Pol Maj Gen Thawatchai said, adding that police already have information about the groups.
National police chief Pol Gen Somyot Pumpunmuang said the discovery of the graveyard was made after a follow-up on the arrest of Rohingya refugees in Nakhon Si Thammarat on Jan 11.
He had received reports from Songkhla provincial police and soldiers of a number of graves at the remote camp. Pol Gen Somyot said the smugglers were believed to include Myanmar, Thai and Malaysian nationals, who take Rohingya migrants to the camp before moving them across the border.
He said the camp is so close to the border that authorities are trying to determine whether it actually resides on Thai or Malaysian soil.
The discovery has dealt a blow to Thailand’s human trafficking record.
Last year, Thailand was downgraded to the lowest tier on the US State Department’s influential Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report, which annually ranks countries by their efforts to combat trafficking.
The government forwarded its progress report to US authorities on March 31 to provide details about the country’s efforts to combat human trafficking with the hope that the US will upgrade the country to Tier 2.