(part of The Darkness Visible series)
(What Thai "Sympathy" Looks Like)
Around one million Rohingya are currently left starving and helpless as a campaign of ethnic cleansing is being pushed by the Rakhine politicians and Burmese Military. Many are left homeless either by the torches of Rakhine mobs or forced out by the tip of military guns. These homeless Rohingya have been pushed off their land and forced into massive concentration camps where the Myanmar government exploits them for foreign aid that is not delivered. At the same time the Rohingya who are left in their homes are stuck behind blockades of barbwire and military checkpoints. And yet all of this is just the beginning for many of the Rohingya who become known as simply "boat people" to the rest of the world.
Every year thousands of Rohingya die at sea as their boats take to the Andaman sea in search of a new life. Many die of dehydration as that old saying "water, water everywhere..." becomes all to real to them. Others are often drowned as their boats sink or the captain dumps them and heads back for the next batch of victims. But for a portion of others these boats are something else entirely.
During the days of the slave trade and the triangle of merchant death ships the African communities along the "Ivory Coast' became human cargo. Their tale has been repeated time and time again over the decades. Today the trade in human flesh however has little to do with tobacco, clothing, or spices and sugar. Today the trade is more focused on slave labor and sexual exploitation. There is rarely anyone willing to defend it these days. Yet there is an entire market willing to partake in it.
For the Thai government this illegal trade has been far to great a temptation for it's officials to resist. Those who do not directly buy and sell Burmese minorities are often these days willing to look the other way as other government and military officials take part. In recent "sting" style busts the Thai government has uncovered countless of their own military commanders and prime ministers who have been directly involved in transporting, buying, and selling Rohingya refugees. Their involvement in this human trafficking has been linked to the sex trade that plagues Southeast Asia and the slave labor that fuels tourists resorts.
These "stings", which many speculate were face saving PR stunts, have many asking why so many more Rohingya are leaving Burma this season? It also has left many asking why women and children are amongst the "boat people" in ever increasing numbers this season? And more importantly, why has the slave trade in the region changed from mainly slave labor to sex trafficking?
Back in Burma the women that the Rohingya "boat people", mainly boys and men, once left behind are no longer safe. Rape of young Rohingya women has often turned into the rape of little girls and old women as the Burmese military's presence increased in the Arakan. Gang rapes have left just as many Rohingya women dead as starvation now that the corrupt Burmese military shows little intention of leaving the area.
The threat of rape is a powerful weapon amongst the Rohingya. It is a method of breaking their communities apart and cracking the only defense they have left... their unity. And it is this point that the Burmese military has focused on. Just as with all genocides, the Myanmar government has focused upon crushing the spirits of the entire Rohingya community as they make the Rohingya desperate.
Once desperate groups like the Rakhine Nationalities Development Party swoop into the scene and being the process of "offering help" to the broken communities. RNDP "brokers" will often seek out individuals who have no paperwork or confiscate any papers the victims can provide. By making their intentions seem pure the human traffickers are able to lure thousands of victims to sea every year.
Often many Rohingya are given the illusion of an escape by transporting them across the Rakhine State to places such as Sittwe where they are put onto boats. These boats are then organized into convoys that suffer losses due to attacks, sinking, and being blown back ashore. But for those who are set to sea the boats become less than "escape" vessels.
The path that is chosen for "guided" boats is often arranged with human traffickers in Thailand and Malaysia. These boats either break away or set out with convoys of their own. Once out to sea though their destiny is already sealed as the "brokers" on the ships aim for hand-off points. These boats will be more than likely ignored by the Thai military giving them a greater chance of arriving with the maximum amount of human cargo on board.
For the boats that are simply trying to flee the violence and genocide, the actual refugees, the Thai officials have another trap for them.
If an unescorted Rohingya boat comes in contact with Thai military vessel they are in danger of still becoming human cargo. This is in spite of the official "help along" policy the Thai government put in place to appear humane when dealing with their "Rohingya question". And for the Rohingya aboard the trap is almost impossible to escape from.
When the Thai military approaches the ship they are purposefully unable to speak or understand the Rohingyas' language. Instead the Thai military officer will get on a phone and force the boat to talk to an "interpreter" who is often operating in nearby waters. This friendly "interpreter" is nothing more than a human trafficker who the military will pass the boats off on. And in many cases the boats that are supposed to be heading for Malaysia end up on the Thai side of the border on plantations that sponsor the human trafficking rings.
In every case where the Thai officials and government are supposedly showing "sympathy" for the plight of the Rohingya there seems to be an ugly side to the story. While the UN was attempting to get in touch with the hundreds of Rohingya "rescued" by the Thai officials last week the trafficking rings still operated in neighboring camps. Rohingya children, often watched by sex traffickers, were put back over the border into Myanmar where the traffickers work best. And yet the ever compassionate "West" continues to ignore the violations of Thailand when dealing with modern day slavery.
This is not a crime that goes away simply because we talk about it. It isn't a black market that needs to just be addressed so that it shrinks back into the shadows. This is an organized market willing to break every law on the books to keep itself in action. It is a criminal enterprise that must be attacked and attacked relentlessly.
To make things worse in this case is the fact that genocide is being used by criminals in Thailand and the surrounding countries to fill their wallets. As nearly a million people suffer under an organized campaign of ethnic cleansing they are also being preyed upon by another criminal regime to support a slave trade.
It is time that governments around the world start taking action and stop muttering their apologies after the crimes have already been committed. Have we not said "Never Again" one too many times already?
(note not all documents are listed)
(January 20th, 2013)
(January 16th, 2013)