No choice but to investigate people smuggling
Once again Thai officials are under the spotlight, accused of complicity in trafficking Rohingya boat people; it's time to bring the guilty to book
The Thai government must vigorously investigate allegations that Thai officials are involved in smuggling Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar to third countries.
The BBC has also reported that Thai officials have allegedly been selling Rohingya boat people to human traffickers. The BBC report said, "Thousands of Muslim Rohingya refugees from Myanmar's far west have taken to the sea in the last few months, heading east to Thailand. The BBC found that boats from Rakhine State were being intercepted by the Thai navy and police, with deals then being done to sell the people to traffickers."
These allegations are serious indeed. They cannot be ignored because the credibility of the Thai authorities is at stake here.
First of all, any people - officials or not - who are involved in human trafficking must be arrested and face criminal charges. At the very least, an investigation must be launched and action taken to eliminate trafficking rings. If the allegations of officials being involved is proved groundless, the result of the probe will restore the reputations of any accused parties.
Without concrete action to tackle this issue once and for all, Thai officials are likely to face continued allegations about smuggling of Rohingya people into Thailand and onward to other countries, because more Rohingya refugees are almost certain to enter the country.
The fresh allegation has received much international attention because it also reflects the unresolved conflict in Myanmar's Rakhine State. Ethnic violence there over the past few months has resulted in waves of illegal Rohingya migrants crossing the border to Thailand in an attempt to get to third countries. The United Nations estimates that about 13,000 boat people, including many Rohingya, fled Myanmar and neighbouring Bangladesh in 2012, a sharp increase from 7,000 a year earlier. It is estimated that there are around 800,000 Rohingya in Myanmar, but the government considers them illegal Bangladeshi immigrants, and thus many try to flee persecution to third countries via Thailand.
Thailand has been criticised by rights groups for being a source, transit and destination country for human trafficking due to its long shared borders with countries that have seen internal conflict.
Already, tens of thousands of Rohingya migrants have landed in Thailand. The clashes in Rakhine last autumn resulted in a new flood of desperate migrants.
It is reported that the trafficking network involves local officials. Some of the illegal migrants want to go to Malaysia or Indonesia. But some of them end up as illegal workers or are forced into begging on the street in Thailand. Others become involved in crime.
International organisations and other countries must find ways to help Thailand settle the Rohingya in third countries, and must also put pressure on Myanmar and Bangladesh to settle the issue of the stateless Rohingya once and for all.
The Thai authorities cannot effectively address this trafficking problem alone, for various reasons. The long border makes it difficult for Thai authorities to monitor entry and egress. In addition, it is undoubtedly true that some officials and law-enforcement officers are corrupt and facilitate the smuggling of the migrants through Thailand.
The alleged smuggling has damaged Thailand's reputation once again, and could affect trade and investment opportunities, especially now that it is on the watch-list of the US State Department's Trafficking in Persons Report for failing to eliminate human trafficking.
Thai authorities have no other option except to seriously address these allegations. Some illegal economic migrants will have to be deported. At the same time the authorities have to provide temporary shelter and humanitarian assistance for Rohingya people, whose lives may be in peril if they're deported before being transferred to third countries. The UNHCR and other international organisations must also help Thailand find a solution regarding the detained migrants. The issue requires a sincere effort from all sides. Otherwise the problem will not go away.