Songkhla Governor Pleads for More Rohingya Interpreters

Security officers patrol a rive in Satul province looking for human traffickers and refugees, 10 May 2015.

SONGKHLA — The governor of the southern province of Songkhla, where nearly 300 refugees from Myanmar and Bangladesh have been rescued this month, is pleading for more interpreters from the central government.

The refugees, who were found wandering the jungle after being abandoned by human smugglers, are a mix of Bangladeshis and Rohingyas, a Muslim minority from Myanmar.

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Police found a group of 26 migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh in Songklha on 10 May, 2015.

Songkhla's Governor, Thamrong Charoenkul, said there are currently only five interpreters who can speak Rohingya or Bengali. He said he has requested more interpreters from the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security in Bangkok. 

"There are obstacles in our categorizing process to determine which persons are victims of human trafficking and which entered the Kingdom illegally,"  Thamrong said. "Songkhla has only five interpreters, which is insufficient." 

Police believe the migrants, who are now being housed in a temporary shelter, were abandoned by their brokers after Thai authorities ordered a sweep of the province following the discovery of a suspected trafficking camp and a mass grave of Rohingya corpses on 1 May. 

The Rohingyas hail from western Myanmar, where they face violent persecution from the local Buddhist population and are denied citizenship by the state. Around 300,000 stateless Rohingya are also estimated to live in destitute refugee camps in bordering Bangladesh.

Since 2012, tens of thousands of Rohingyas have boarded boats to escape Myanmar and start new lives in other countries, such as Muslim-friendly Malaysia. The crowded boats often stop in Thailand, where those who survive the perilous sea journeys are detained in jungle camps until family members cough up exorbitant ransom fees.  

Many of the migrants encountered by police this week showed signs of physical abuse and malnutrition. Some survivors of the camps said traffickers beat and even murdered refugees whose families refused to send money.

Thai police have issued 51 arrest warrants in connection with the detention camps, said Pol.Gen. Aek Angsananont, deputy commander of Royal Thai Police. So far, 19 people have been arrested and 32 others are still on the run, including the suspected kingpin of a regional trafficking network. 

The alleged ringleader was identified as Patchuban Angchotipan, aka Ko Tong, a former local administrative official and owner of several resorts in Satun province.

Pol.Gen. Aek said some of the suspects are believed to have fled to Malaysia, and that the Thai government will request Malaysian authorities to deport them back to Thailand.

According to Pol.Gen. Aek, 276 refugees have been found in the past 12 days. Police say 213 of them entered the country illegally, while 63 others are victims of human trafficking. Police have also detained four traffickers who posed as refugees

Since the crackdown on Thai soil, there has been a spike in the number of migrants arriving by boat to other southeast Asian countries. Over the weekend, more than 1,500 migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh were rounded up by police in Malaysia and Indonesia.

An official from the International Organization for Migration said at least 8,000 migrants are believed to be stranded off shore. 

 
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