Traffickers’ jungle prison camps on the Thai-Malaysian border ‘operating for years’, say Rohingya migrants in Malaysia.
Susan Cunningham, Kuala Lumpur
Mizzima Weekly, August 20, 2015
[This article appeared in Myanmar’s Mizzima Weekly print magazine in 2015 but not online. I decided to post it here more than a year later because the Rohingya homeland in northern Rakhine State is once again attracting international media coverage. Even Malaysian PM Najib wants to take advantage of the crisis. The spotlight won’t last long. There was another brief international moment in spring 2015 when the overloaded boats were drifting around the Andaman Sea and various governments vowed at a high-profile multinational meeting in Bangkok that the recent arrivals in Indonesia, Malaysia and Thailand would be resettled in third countries within a year. In the weeks after, though, I was unable to interest any international media outlets in why thousands of stateless Rohingya attempt to reach Malaysia each year or how they live illegally once they get there. Fortunately, Mizzima was interested.
As for that one-year deadline? Who knows or cares? When it was coming up, I emailed all the NGOs that had appeared to have some knowledge and interaction with Rohingya last year (not to confused with the much greater number that tweet relentlessly, often spreading baseless rumors, but don’t do anything else). Only one person replied. She said she heard that the Rohingya that had arrived in northern Sumatra last year had made their way across the Straits of Malacca to Malaysia, but had no details. This is interesting because the Acehnese were very welcoming to their fellow Muslims last year; my guess is that the Rohingya wanted to join relatives in Malaysia. The trial in Thailand of more than 100 people involved in trafficking Rohingya through Thailand drags on. I have no idea about proceedings of traffickers on the Malaysia end of the pipeline.
It will be interesting to see if Justin Trudeau’s grandiose statements mean that Canada will begin to accept Rohingya for resettlement. At the time I wrote this, the US was the only country resettling Rohingya from Malaysia; that had been the situation for a long time. The conditions and working prospects for Rohingya in Bangladesh were worse than in Malaysia even before this recent influx of tens of thousands of fleeing attacks by the Myanmar army, so they may be the first priority.]
While traffickers’ jungle prisons along the Thai-Malaysian border were first widely exposed by Reuter’s reports published almost two years ago, they have been well known to Rohingya in Myanmar and Malaysia for more than a decade.
Sultan Ahmed bin Ahmed Hussein, the new president of the Rohingya Society of Malaysia (RSM), arrived in Malaysia in 2012 by way of a border jungle prison. The 2001 Sittwe University graduate had been working in Rakhine State for GRET, a French non-governmental organization involved in agricultural development. After the 2012 communal riots, the French staff left the state and he was interrogated by the police. “They wanted money,” he recalled earlier this month. “Some of my friends were arrested. Some were shot and killed.” After he left his home in Buthidaung to stay with friends in Maungdaw, he heard that back home “thirty police had descended on my house, so I knew I had to leave.” His wife and four children are still in Myanmar (Burma).
Beginning with a Thai fishing boat, the cost and route of passage to Butterworth via Thailand were common knowledge in Maungdaw by then: 6,000 Malaysia ringgit (US$2,000) or the equivalent up front and another 6,000 ringgit to be paid into traffickers’ bank accounts once the passengers had arrived somewhere in the vicinity of the Malaysian-Thai border. Continue reading