Thai army raids Rohingya smugglers' secret camp near Malaysian border

PUBLISHED : Friday, 11 January, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Friday, 11 January, 2013, 3:05am

Thai authorities have raided a secret transit camp for ethnic Rohingya on the border with Malaysia, after an undercover operation in which two of the Muslim migrants were "purchased" from people smugglers.

The Army operation on Wednesday night resulted in the detention of 351 Rohingya men, 11 women and five children, as well as the arrest of seven alleged people smugglers. Two of the children were less than a year old.

The raid was the latest development in the ongoing exodus of thousands of Rohingya from Myanmar. They are fleeing ethnic violence and discrimination. Entire Rohingya villages have been torched in the past year by Buddhist mobs, who accuse them of being illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.

A key participant in the Thai Army raid was Kalam, an undercover Rohingya working with the Army. He said he bought two boatpeople for 95,000 Thai baht (HK$24,000) in the sting operation in Padangneza district, in the southern Thai province of Songkhla.

People smugglers tout Rohingya as cheap labour on farms and fishing boats, with the Muslim migrants willingly working for low wages as a way to escape their impoverished and troubled homeland.

The issue of the Rohingya and Myanmar's treatment of them is causing problems for Myanmar's neighbours, especially Thailand.

Myanmar does not recognise the Rohingya as citizens and refuses to accept formal repatriations, confounding authorities in nearby countries who do not wish to accept them as refugees.

Human Rights Watch has pleaded with the Thai government to let some of the Rohingya remain in Thailand while their futures are resolved.