A ROHINGYA CRISIS REDUX
Bangkok Post-Apr 4
A seemingly simple refugee boat stopover has set off alarm bells among authorities. Last week’s Krabi sojourn by 56 Rohingya has revived memories of past atrocities, as well as human trafficking. Police chief Chakthip Chaijinda suspects that the stop at Koh Ha and Koh Lanta by the Rohingya could mark a resurgence of the vicious, murderous trafficking of this minority people.
Pol Gen Chakthip is right to order a complete investigation of last Saturday’s incident. On the surface, nothing notable happened. The 56 hapless people aboard the boat were seeking temporary shelter from stormy weather. Local officials and people gave them food and water and the boat was put back to sea. Those aboard said they were trying to reach Malaysia, landing and then setting sail peacefully.
While early reports on that stopover seemed innocent enough, there are two pressing questions for Pol Gen Chakthip and other officials. The first is whether the refugee boat’s stop in Thailand was accidental, as reported. The police chief said on Monday he wants to determine whether the refugees were driven to Thailand by weather conditions, and not as a test by human traffickers.
The second and deeper question is whether Thailand should be preparing for another influx of Rohingya. The 2014-15 flood of refugees from Rakhine state in western Myanmar caused deep shocks and massive tragedies. Amid that deluge of people, human trafficking gangs flourished.
Some of the worst excesses and exploitation of refugees ever recorded occurred during that period. At least one such gang, directed by a serving, three-star general of the Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc), abducted and ransomed Rohingya. Men, women and children were taken to secret and isolated camps deep in the jungle along the Malaysian border, where they were forced to come up with ransom money for their release — or be killed.
Lt Gen Manas Kongpan was sentenced, along with dozens of accomplices, to 27 years in prison. The court found he was responsible for “dozens” of murders of refugees who had failed to come up with ransom payments. The military regime under Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha rightfully cracked down on that human trafficking travesty. The last thing authorities want, and the last thing Thailand needs, is any sort of repeat of that tragic event.
Unfortunately, the policies of the Myanmar regime and its leader Aung San Suu Kyi have led to a possible replay. And not only has the Myanmar government and army caused a new crisis with policies of ethnic cleansing that have forced 700,000 Rohingya to flee to squalid, virtually unlivable conditions in Bangladesh. ASEAN itself has repeatedly delayed forceful actions that could help the Muslim minority.
Given the terrible conditions of the camps in Bangladesh, combined with the impossibility of sustained survival by those Rohingya, a new refugee wave is more likely to take place than not. Among top government and security officers, Pol Gen Chakthip particularly seems to sense the dangers for the country and for the possible mass migration of desperate Rohingya from the Myanmar-Bangladesh border area.
A new wave of Rohingya would severely test Thailand, Indonesia and Malaysia. The Rohingya never have had the goal of resettling in Thailand, just as Thailand never has had a policy of accepting the Muslim refugees. But the seas and the weather frequently put Thailand smack dab in the middle of their path between a now inhospitable home and safety in Muslim-majority countries. Rohingya fleeing overland as well must pass through Thailand.
The chances of renewed human trafficking increase by the day. ASEAN, and particularly Thailand, Myanmar’s prime neighbor, should relaunch and redouble efforts to solve this huge human problem. Security forces must be ready to greet any new refugee flood with compassion.
(First published in Bangkok Post – https://www.bangkokpost.com/opinion/opinion/1440366/a-rohingya-crisis-redux)