US congressmen warn failure in humane treatment could lead to sanctions
LAWMAKERS in the United States have urged the administration of President Barack Obama to punish Thailand and other countries in Southeast Asia for not doing enough to fight human trafficking, accusing Thai officials of selling Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar to traffickers.
Republican Representative Chris Smith called on the administration to downgrade Thailand and Malaysia unless the authorities in these countries showed progress on the protection of the Rohingya refugees.
Thailand and Malaysia are transit places for Rohingya migrants who flee from harsh persecution in Myanmar, he told a House of Representatives subcommittee hearing on tier rankings and the State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report on Tuesday.
“According to reports put out by Reuters, Thai authorities are selling Rohingya to human traffickers, where they are held in ‘tropical gulags’ until relatives pay ransom,” Smith said.
Those who do not pay are sold into sex slavery or hard labour and many die from abuse or disease, he said.
Thai authorities did little to prevent this situation, he said, adding that the Rohingya migrants are always sent to Malaysia, where they are also exploited as workers.
Myanmar is the source of the refugee problem because of its policies of discrimination, harsh persecution and violence, which force Rohingya to leave the country as boat people, he said.
In the report, “Tier 1” countries are those meeting anti-trafficking standards. “Tier 2” do not but are making a significant effort to do so. “Tier 3” countries do not meet the standards and do not make significant efforts to do so.
Tier 3 countries are open to sanction by the US government. A US law also includes a watch list, in which countries on Tier 2 for two years are downgraded to Tier 3 unless they receive presidential waivers, available for two additional years.
Thailand is on the Tier 2 watch list.
Mark Lagon, a professor of international affairs at Georgetown University, said in his testimony on Tuesday that Thailand was on the cusp of an automatic downgrade to Tier 3.
“Public unrest and shaky rule of law in the last year are no pretext for not telling it like it is in the TIP 2014 report,” he said.