Thailand Arrests 62 Myanmar Migrants Near Malaysian Border

Thai authorities said they plan to charge and deport 62 undocumented migrants from Myanmar, including five Rohingya Muslims, who were arrested after human smugglers left them in a house near Thailand’s southern border with Malaysia.

The 62 were waiting to cross into Malaysia illegally but were taken into Thai custody Tuesday after being found at a townhouse in Padang Besar, a subdistrict of Songkhla province, officials said.

Padang Besar is the same area where dozens of graves of trafficked Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants were found in the jungle in May 2015. That discovery precipitated a Thai crackdown on human smuggling that contributed to a regional migration crisis.

Meanwhile, some 139 graves of other victims of human-smuggling were discovered on the other side of the border in northern Malaysia’s Perlis state.

At around that time, thousands of Rohingyas and Bangladeshis came ashore in Thailand, Malaysia, and Indonesia after being abandoned in smugglers’ boats adrift in the Andaman Sea and Strait of Malacca.

“The 62 immigrants have been detained and questioned at Padang Besar police station. The police have been interrogating them, and will press charges of illegal entry. They intend to deport them to where they came from,” Lt. Col. Prapan Areebambud, deputy chief of the police station in Padang Besar, told Benar News on Thursday.

Police were notified about the group of undocumented foreigners by a woman from Myanmar who was being kept in the same house but managed to sneak out, according to the superintendent of the Thai police anti-human trafficking branch in Songkhla.

“We interrogated a Myanmar woman who escaped from the house to seek help from authorities. She said Thai and Malaysian brokers brought them from border checkpoints in Mae Sod district, in Tak province, and the border in Ranong province, and they each paid them 200,000 kyats (U.S. $168.50),” said the superintendent, Police Col. Narong Tedwiboon, referring to Thai provinces along the border with Myanmar.

“They were kept there for five days, waiting for the next brokers to take them into Malaysia, but no one came. They were afraid that they were cheated, so she sneaked out to seek help from authorities,” Narong told BenarNews.

‘Way too small’

Malaysia, a predominantly Muslim and relatively prosperous country, has been a prime destination in Southeast Asia for Rohingyas, with southern Thailand serving as an overland transit route for many.

Rohingyas belong to a stateless minority in Buddhist-dominated Myanmar whose members have been fleeing ethnic and religious persecution in Rakhine state, in search of better employment and educational prospects abroad.

Last year’s crackdown on human-smuggling in Thailand resulted in arrests warrants being issued for 153 suspected members of a transnational ring linked to the jungle graves in Padang Besar. Ninety-two of the suspects, including an army general, police officers, and some local officials, are standing trial in Bangkok on human-trafficking charges.

Nu Muhammad, a Rohingya expat who has lived in Thailand for more than 10 years, said human-smuggling into the country from Myanmar will go on on because operators at the ground level have not been caught, he said.

“The traffickers are using land routes because they can no longer go by sea,” he told BenarNews.

A trafficker in Padang Besar, who declined to reveal her real name, indicated that many more people were being trafficked through the area on their way to Malaysia.

“The arrest of 62 is way too small. To traffic [such] a small number is not worth the economy of scale,” she said, adding that human trafficking in the area was bouncing back after a lull that followed last year’s crackdown.

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