Thai policeman on Rohingya trafficking charge

Thai policeman accused of taking woman from shelter, allowing her rape

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 June, 2013, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 June, 2013, 4:47am


A policeman has been charged with human trafficking after a Rohingya woman was allegedly lured from a shelter in southern Thailand and subsequently raped by a man from the refugee Muslim minority, police said.

It is believed to be the first time a Thai official has been charged with trafficking Muslim Rohingya boatpeople, despite investigations into alleged people smuggling by authorities including the army.

The officer is accused of taking the 25-year-old victim along with her daughters, aged 12 and nine, and two other women, away from the shelter in Phang Nga in late May. The woman was told she was being taken to Malaysia to be reunited with her Rohingya husband but was instead held and raped in an ordeal lasting several weeks, police said.

The woman was allegedly raped repeatedly by the Rohingya man, believed to have worked as a translator at the shelter. He has been charged with the sex attacks.

The victim and her children were found on a roadside and returned to the shelter last week when she contacted the police.

"The officer has been charged with taking part in human trafficking and abuse of his position," said Weerasin Kwansaeng, commander of Kuraburi police.

"The victim said he drove the car from the shelter," Weerasin said, adding it was the first time charges had been brought against police over the trafficking of Rohingya.

Dozens of Rohingya women and children who fled communal violence in Myanmar are housed at the shelter, while hundreds of men from the ethnic group are being held at an immigration detention centre in the same province.

Rights groups have repeatedly voiced concerns over the treatment of Rohingya refugees by Thai authorities, saying they are held in poor conditions and are vulnerable to exploitation.

The rape "demonstrates the vulnerability of Rohingya women to human traffickers - even when they are living in government-run shelters where they should be protected", said Brad Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

In January, Thai authorities opened an investigation into allegations that army officials were involved in trafficking Rohingya.

The Thai military is widely accused of being complicit in the trafficking of Rohingya. Unable to deport detained Rohingya to Myanmar, since that nation denies they are its citizens, Thai troops are suspected of handing them over to people smugglers at the Thai-Myanmar border.

Around 2,000 Rohingya refugees remain in detention in Thailand while authorities wait for a third country to offer to accept them.

Described by the UN as among the most persecuted minority groups in the world, Rohingya have for years trickled abroad to neighbouring Bangladesh and, increasingly, to mainly Muslim Malaysia.

Myanmar views its population of roughly 800,000 Rohingya as illegal Bangladeshi immigrants and denies them citizenship, effectively rendering them stateless.

A explosion of tensions between Buddhist and Muslim communities in Myanmar's western state of Rakhine since June last year has triggered a huge exodus of Rohingya, mostly heading for Malaysia.