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Fears of 'more suffering' for Rohingya after monsoon season

Rohingya playing football at a fishing village outside of Sittwe in Rakhine State. (Photo: CNA/Siddhar Tungaparhara)

By Panu Wongcha-um
July 7, 2015

Humanitarian groups said more illegal boats and new tactics by people smugglers could reignite the Rohingya crisis in southern Thailand once the monsoon season ends.

PHANG NGA, Thailand: Thai authorities have arrested 65 suspects out of 119 wanted for human trafficking of Rohingya migrants since May, but experts warned that more needs to be done to stamp out the trafficking network responsible for the "death camps" discovered in southern Thailand and Malaysia.

A Thai police officer who works in southern Thailand and wanted to remain anonymous said he feared the traffickers may change tactics from transporting migrants in large numbers, to trafficking them in small groups or even one-by-one.

"Once the rain stops then we may see more arrivals of the Rohingya and this time the traffickers may change their tactics," the officer said.

The monsoon has halted the traffic carrying Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants through southern Thailand but once the stormy season is over there could be more migrant boats arriving, according to the Deputy Director of the Human Rights Watch's Asia division, Phil Robertson.

"Unless these trafficking networks are eradicated we will see more suffering," Mr Robertson said, adding that the humanitarian situation in Rakhine state in western Myanmar has worsened since the sectarian violence in 2012.

He said this could lead to a greater exodus once the monsoon ends.

In 2012, sectarian violence erupted between Buddhists and Muslims resulting in the mass displacement of the Rohingya population within Rakhine state. Many Rohingya were driven out of city centres into isolated camps and makeshift villages, living under fear of fresh outbreaks of violence.

Almost all of those affected lacked access to medical care, education, and economic opportunities, causing many to flee on boats to Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia.

The president of the Burmese Rohingya Association of Thailand, Maung Kyaw Nu, said ASEAN and world governments need to listen to the suffering of the Rohingya to properly address the issue.

"If they listen to our voice then there would be no more graves," he said.

Meanwhile those who have already arrived in Thailand are still in limbo.

Officially not recognised as refugees, most are considered illegal migrants and are stuck in Thai government detention centres or shelters in southern Thailand.

"In local societies they are often seen as a burden, as a drain on society", said Vivian Tan, Senior Regional Public Information Officer of the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).

"This doesn't need to be the case because of these refugees are allowed to work legally for the time they are here; at least they can become self-reliant and can contribute to society," she said.

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