Not many are buying the Malaysian government’s claim that it had no knowledge of the human smuggling camps uncovered close to mass graves found in Perlis, metres from the Thai-Malaysian border.
UK anti-discrimination NGO Equal Rights Trust said its 2010 report outlines the existence of high human trafficking activity on the Thai-Malaysian border but there was no government action.
Trafficking victims who escaped also told the NGO five years ago that Malaysian police and immigration officials assisted traffickers for cash, and described in detail the camps on the border.
“No one can know how many lives would have been saved if they had acted before now,” lamented Equal Rights Trust’s Executive Director, Dimitrina Petrova.
In the report, Rohingya refugees describe torture and sale as bonded labour in “Malaysian camps”.
The refugees were sent to Thailand and made to pay a fee to return to Malaysia, but they were re-arrested in Malaysia and then deported back to traffickers, the report said, citing refugee accounts.
“If they could not pay, they were sold into bonded labour in plantations and on shipping boats, an ordeal which few survived,” it said.
12 cops arrested
Earlier, migrant rights NGO Tenaganita told Malaysiakini it has alerted the authorities multiple times over the years about the ‘death’ camps on the border, but no one acted.
Yesterday, the Home Ministry said 12 police personnel have been arrested in relations to the abandoned camps found next to 139 mass graves in the border district of Wang Kelian, Perlis.
Four were arrested by police while eight were nabbed by the Malaysian Anti-Corruption Commission, Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said.
Authorities found the camps amid a refugee crisis involving thousands of migrants - Rohingya from Myanmar and Bangladeshi - adrift in the Andaman sea.
They are believed to be adrift after human traffickers abandoned the human cargo, amid a regional crackdown after discovery of mass graves on the Thai side of the border.
About 1,000 landed in Langkawi on May 11, while Malaysia and Indonesia have pledged to shelter them and thousands others for a year while they await resettlement elsewhere.
Several boatloads have landed on Indonesian shores, but none have arrived in Malaysia after the first two vessels.
Malaysia agreed to shelter the migrants after international pressure, but has yet to work out where it will place them. The Penang and Kedah governments have said it has no resources for this.
‘Trapped in floating coffins’
Meanwhile, the International Commission of Jurists urged Asean to immediately save the lives of the migrants “trapped in floating coffins” in the Andaman Sea and address the persecution of Muslim Rohingya in Myanmar’s Rakhine state at a 17-nation meeting on the crisis in Bangkok tomorrow.
The Rohingya are fleeing violence against them in the largely Buddhist state on Myanmar.
Myanmar has also recently passed laws which discriminate against the Rohingya, including the Protection of Race and Religion laws which allow the state to enforce birth spacing on the minority community, ICJ’s Asia director Sam Zarifi said in a statement.
Zarifi said this is the root cause for the displacement of thousands and keeping silent under the notion of non-interference is no longer an option.
“Asean countries have hidden behind the notion of ‘non-interference’ to turn a blind eye to the persecution of Rohingya in Myanmar, to the growth of criminal smuggling and human trafficking networks, and the increasing demand for undocumented labourers," he added.
"But this crisis shows that problems in one country can and will quickly spread to the others unless Asean can provide a rights-compliant regional response,” Sam Zarifi, ICJ’s Asia director said.