rohingya_muslims_thailand
Rohingya Muslims are a stateless people.

Their homeland is in dispute; some argue that it is Bangladesh and others argue that it is Myanmar. The sitting government in Myanmar’s organized persecution of the Rohingya has caused hundreds of thousands to flee to other countries in any means that they are able.

A great number have fled to nearby Thailand assuming that they would be safe from deportation back to a state that does not recognize or want them; however, they were wrong.

The situation in Thailand for the Rohingya is not a welcome one. Since the early 2000s, the Rohingya have been fleeing persecution in Myanmar to any country that is close at hand. However, Thailand is not the sanctuary that it used to be for the Rohingya, according to Abdul Kalam, a Rohingya who has lived in Thailand after escaping forced labor in his home.

Kalam is the head of the Thailand’s Rohingya national organization. The plight of the Rohingya in Thailand is not widely known save for a brief international spotlight in 2009, when media captured boatloads of Rohingya refugees being towed back out to see by Thai naval ships.

The Rohingya are trapped in vicious circle.

Thailand is one of the few countries in the world that has indefinite imprisonment terms and due to this unusual fact, this is often the fate of those being detained by Thai authorities. A group of reporters filmed the appalling conditions that many Rohingya face while being indefinitely detained in Thailand.

The conditions that the Rohingya were found in are deplorable and it is a travesty that such treatment of human beings is still occurring. The cells that were being used as holding areas were designed to house just 15 men each, yet Thai authorities had placed 276 Rohingya men in them. The Thai government should be aiding the Rohingya in their escape from persecution; however, Thailand does not recognize the Rohingya as refugees.

The troubling news for the Rohingya in Thailand is compounded by the fact that reports document how the Thai government has been secretly selling Rohingya to human trafficking camps deep within the Thai jungle. Reuters found evidence of these camps and reported on the plight of the Rohingya trapped in them. Reuters presented one of Thailand’s highest police officials with the evidence that was uncovered about the camps and when asked, police Major-General Chatchawal Suksomjit, Deputy Commissioner General of the Thai Royal Police gave the startling reply that he indeed knew about the camps, but called them “holding cells.”

The plight of the Rohingya is known to the world, but little is being done by the United Nations or any other international aid group. The persecution that the Rohingya face at every turn in their struggle to cement their lives somewhere should be considered one of the most flagrant abuses of human rights in the 21st century.

There are many pressing issues occurring around the world every day, but people can exist in a world free of persecution for any peoples regardless of ethnic or religious status.

Arthur Fuller

Sources: BBC, Fox, Time, CNN, Reuters, IRIN, Human Rights Watch
Photo: Press TV

refugees_flee_flames_thailand
As of December 2013, Thailand has had 646,770 incoming refugees, mostly from Myanmar, to which the Thai government responded by setting up nine camps on their border for temporary shelter. The United Nations reports that “with possible reduction in humanitarian assistance, the protection risks of economically vulnerable refugees who might resort to negative coping mechanisms for survival will represent an additional challenge…”

Before 2013 came to a close, one last tragedy hit the Thai people on December 27. Fires in two of the refugee camps on the Burmese border left the International Rescue Committee (IRC) to respond to the disaster, which caused approximately 600 people to become homeless. So far only one death has been reported, but 600 people are still left without homes.

The director of IRC programs in Thailand explains “This is a sad reminder of the refugee’s vulnerable living conditions. Families lost all of their possessions in a matter of minutes.” What would you do if you saw your possessions being turned to ashes? The people of Thailand also did not know what to do.

The IRC has since stepped in to provide health care, water and other services to all nine of the refugee camps, not only the two affected by the fire. Unfortunately, the Thai people did not expect anything less than a tragic end to 2013, but are thankful for the various health teams visiting the displaced families for counseling.

UNHCR explains that the refugees in Thailand have been fleeing conflict and crossing Myanmar’s eastern border jungles for safety for 30 years. Moreover, the IRC began working in Thailand in 1976, in response to the influx of refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia.

As it stands, the IRC has, for a while, been responsible for aiding 140,000 refugees in Thailand, responding to emergencies by providing urgent health care and supplies. Additionally, IRC provides legal counseling, emotional support and even assistance for refugees seeking admission to the United States.

– Lindsey Lerner

Sources: The UN Refugee Agency, International Rescue Committee
Photo: The Guardian

2004 Thailand Tsunami
December 26, 2004. Billions of people were waking up, making coffee, or in other parts of the globe preparing for a good night’s sleep. On the coast of Thailand, billions of tons of water crashed onto the shores. An extremely powerful earthquake, classified as a ‘megathrust’, caused an enormous Tsunami. Major damage was suffered up and down the coastline, including the eco-resort of KhaoLak.  A classic warning sign of an impending tsunami is a trough, when the ocean is pulled back from the shore before the waves come down. Sunbathers and swimmers alike did not have time to register this warning as they were distracted by the thousands of fish left on the sand. Nearly six thousand people were killed, and many of them were vacationing tourists. Hundreds more were injured or displaced from their destroyed homes. The main city with excellent hospitals, Phuket, became the main area of medical care during the aftermath and was covered intensively by media and news crews.

Under a ‘memorandum of understanding’, the U.S. donated with other nations Part One of the DartII buoy system to Thailand. The system uses ‘tsunameters’ and seismic information to predict potential tsunamis. The goal is to give everyone on the Indian Ocean from Thailand to Sri Lanka a sixty minute warning before another tsunami strikes. The systems have been implemented gradually since 2005, and are known collectively as the Indian Ocean Project. Thailand today is almost reminiscent of what it was before the tsunami ever struck. Beach days and nightlife are in full swing, hotel rates are down, shopping is up, and Thailand is welcoming visitors and tourists for the New Year. Economically, tourists visiting will help boost the market and get Thailand back to a stable place from which they will continue to grow.

The Impossible  is a feature length film that was released in 2012, eight years after the tsunami struck Thailand. It is based on the true story of Maria and Henry Bennet as well as their three sons, Thomas, Lucas, and Simon. Naomi Watts and Ewan McGregor play the parents of the three boys that were staying at a resort on vacation when the Tsunami struck.  Maria and Lucas were separated and stranded on the coastline, both severely injured. Henry, Simon, and Lucas had survived and ended up searching the resort for the rest of their family before traveling to Phuket to search the hospitals. Maria and Lucas ended up being aided by locals and also taken to the hospital in Phuket. The movie follows their harrowing and desperately hopeful story of surviving the tsunami and finding their way back together which, in the end, they do. The real family has returned to the beach every Christmas Day since, as a reminder to themselves and their children not to live in fear but to conquer the impossible.

Kaitlin Sutherby

Sources: Phuket Thailand, Jakarta Post, IMDB
Photo: Giphy.com

thailand_tribes_poverty
Thailand is often known as the land of beautiful beaches, burgeoning tourism, and The Hangover 2. But that’s not quite the whole picture. While Thailand has seen great developmental leaps over the past 20 years, the country still faces challenges with poverty and more recently growing inequality in Thailand.

At the surface, Thailand appears to lie in a positive, growing position. Starting in 1990, the poverty level decreased from 27 percent to 9.8 percent, in just 12 years. The number of chronically underweight children dropped to half its previous measurement in this same time period. Access to education and literacy rates continue to improve annually.

The problem lies in the fact that this growth has been concentrated in cities and urban areas, leaving the rural communities and hill tribes to suffer. Nearly one million children lack documents proving their birth registration. This means the Thai government does not recognize them as citizens, preventing them from receiving any governmental benefits and recognition of their basic human rights.

While unemployment stands at a promising 2 percent rate, child labor remains a fact of life for many, with an estimated 818,000 children aged five to fourteen generating income for their families. As Thailand’s economy continues to grow from increased international trade and as educational standards increase, this number is expected to fall.

Issues with water sanitation have continued to create health problems for 4 percent of the country, with the majority of that 4 percent consisting of rural communities without proper sanitary technology or regulations. This lack of clean water leads to malnutrition and the spread of disease through bacteria.

Human trafficking continues to stand out as significant problem for the Thai people. This underground industry leads to thousands of kidnapped people who are then forced into modern day slavery, in the form of prostitution or forced labor. The popularity of prostitution in the country also contributes to the spread of HIV and AIDS, currently afflicting more than 610,000 people.

Currently 9.8 percent of the population lives under the poverty line. This percentage is largely concentrated in the rural outskirts of the country. This demographic consists of small farmers, without access to education. In contrast, many citizens in the urban areas of Thailand have benefited from the job creation generated by the country’s growing international economy.

Geographically, the struggling sections of the country lie on the borders, with the hill tribes in the far northern and far southern regions remain left behind as the rest of Thailand has progressed over the last two decades. These isolated areas see the greatest problems with hunger, with women and children’s health in particular struggling with malnutrition and mortality rates. Without access to proper medical care, little improvement is being made and disease continues to spread. Similarly, a lack of education prevents these remote areas from growing economically.

While Thailand certainly has achieved great progress in meeting its problems with poverty, there remains much work to be accomplished. The growing disparity in both wealth and basic human rights must be addressed and the country must unify even its most distant regions in order to continue to move forward in its developmental journey.

– Allison Meade

Sources: World Vision, Central Intelligence Agency
Photo: Bunnie Blog

sex_trafficking_thailand
Human trafficking has grown into a widespread and horrific issue in Thailand. The country has become a trafficking hub, sending and recruiting people all over the world to work in prostitution, unfair labor situations, forced marriages, sex tourism, and other crimes.

The majority of the human trafficking in Thailand feeds into prostitution. The country has struggled with its treatment of women since it became a country in the 1930s. The country did not grant equal rights to women until 1997 and today is still not enforcing these standards of equal rights consistently. Research conducted by the Ministry of Public Health in Thailand explains that approximately 1.5 million female children report cases of abuse annually. This shocking number does not include the vast number of cases left unreported. Further inquiry into these discoveries by the Ministry of Public Health reveals that females under 15 years old made up nearly one half of all reported rape and abuse cases in Thailand.

Sex trafficking and prostitution have always been a part of Thailand’s history, however, the Vietnam War contributed to an explosion of the issue between 1955 and 1975. With an influx of anxious, homesick, and bored soldiers into the country, spilling over from Vietnam, the demand for prostitution skyrocketed, resulting in the growth of the human trafficking industry which still remains today. The influx in human trafficking during this time, combined with a historical view of women as inferior, has led to the cultural acceptance of prostitution throughout most of Thailand. The World Health Organization estimates that Thailand currently has nearly 2 million sex workers.

Deep poverty and desperation of many Thai citizens have contributed to the human trafficking industry and problems that have derived from it. People who do not hold proper immigration documentation or citizenship are the most vulnerable recruits, as they perceive this path as their only opportunity to make money. Recruiters target many impoverished people, telling them they are being led to a job where they will have an opportunity to make money to send to their family. The hill tribe women in Northern Thailand, who lack citizenship papers, often fall into prostitution, as it is the only job they can perform without needing proof of citizenship.

Victims of human trafficking can be forced into prostitution or the sex trade or other forms of difficult labor, often without any pay or any limitation on the amount of hours they must work. Though exact numbers are currently unknown, trafficked children make up a significant part of the labor force in construction work zones or factory sweatshops. Many of these trafficking victims work in the fishing industry and relayed how it was not uncommon for a boat captain to kill any of the fishermen who fell sick or too weak to work under these harsh conditions.

Some critics have called for the legalization of prostitution in Thailand as a method of curbing the trafficking problem. This could lead to better legal protection for prostitutes and would put many traffickers out of business. Additionally, if the industry were legal the government could tax it, making a profit of it and discouraging people from prostitution, as it would be more expensive to cover the tax. However, Thailand would be taking a step backwards in their push to end trafficking and prostitution. While it may sound economically beneficial to legalize prostitution, one must not forget the basic violation of human rights that prostitution, forced labor, and the slave trade infringes on its victims.

– Allison Meade

Sources: State Department, Human Rights Watch, Human Trafficking
Photo: Sabre

 

“After 3 nights we were told that one of us would be executed. We had to draw straws to decide who would be killed. If the police had come one hour later we would have been killed already.” –An escaped slave

The London-based non-profit organization Environmental Justice Fund (EJF) recently released a report on the state of human trafficking in Thailand, called ‘Sold to the Sea.’ In it, former fishing boat slaves provide accounts of torture and “casual homicide” committed by captains and crews onboard numerous fishing vessels. The results of their 2009 survey were very clear: Thailand’s fishing industry is one of the worst examples of modern slavery.

Thailand’s $7.3 billion fishery export business is the third most valuable in the world. One in six pounds of seafood sold in the United States comes from the small nation, which also supplies Europe and most of Asia. The high demand in the industry has created an increase in foreign migrant workers traveling to Thailand in order to fill labor needs. However, the Thai government’s complicated and expensive visa and immigration policies have forced many poor workers to rely on human traffickers in order to enter the country.

Laborers are typically trafficked into Thailand from Myanmar, Burma and Cambodia by coyotes (human traffickers), who lure them there with false promises. Boys as young as 16 can be bought for $600 by fishing companies to work on their boats for up to 20 hours a day with little to no compensation. Such easy access to cheap labor has resulted in barbaric practices on fishing trawlers, including the maiming and murder of these foreign slaves.

A UN report found that up to 59 percent of escaped slaves admit to witnessing at least one murder of another worker at the hands of senior crewman. One former slave testified to the EJF that, “The senior crew attacked workers with knives. And some got killed and their bodies were thrown into the sea.”

These abuses have been allowed to continue for the most part because they take place in international waters, where no country has jurisdiction. Unregistered “ghost boats” take the forced laborers out to sea, and there the crew commits terrible acts against them. Reports of stabbing, crippling, and tossing people alive into the ocean have all been made over the past few years. These crews have been allowed to get away with their crimes because ghost boats rarely ever enter port. Instead, they take their slave-caught seafood to “mother ships,” that then bring the fish into port to sell to brokers.

For the past four years, Thailand has consistently ranked in the second-tier of the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons report. The report, which is based on a three-tier scale, rates nations around the world based on their human trafficking statistics. Thailand has only avoided the worst rating because they have continued to be pardoned by Secretaries of State Hillary Clinton and John Kerry. This year, Thailand used up its last pardon, and if they do not make noticeable improvements in handling their human trafficking stats, the United States will be legally obligated to begin implementing targeted sanctions against them. President Obama has already voiced his support for cracking down on these practices.

This means that the Thai government must spend the next 12 months conducting enough raids and arrests to prove their sincerity and commitment to ending human trafficking in their country. Over the past few years they have made modest steps towards that goal. The government increased police training, created greater potential sentences for convicted traffickers and have constructed more shelters for refugees. These efforts have made little impact on the Thai slave trade, however, mainly because they are not targeted at the true perpetrators.

Human trafficking in Thailand has continued to be facilitated by corruption and an unwillingness to prosecute the companies and brokers profiting from the sale of human beings. The Thai navy’s efforts to monitor the fishing fleet have been negligible at best, and without pressure from the government, the issue is not going to improve. With the threat of international sanctions looming over them, maybe 2013 will be the year that Thailand begins cracking down on human trafficking in the fishing industry- but if the past is any indication, it is not likely.

– Allana Welch

Sources: Al Jazeera, International Business Times, Marine Link, Global Post, Environmental Justice Foundation

Photo: The Asia Foundation