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May 8-14, 2015

Weekly Media Monitoring report for Burma
Posted on May 19, 2015
1. Mass graves of illegal migrants discovered in Thailand
State-Owned Media:

Myanmar Times, May 8: “Military links plague Thai trafficking reform efforts

  • The discovery of clandestine trafficking camps in Thailand containing mass graves and human remains has attracted mass-media attention and has mounted pressure on a nation still smarting from exposure as a notorious human-trafficking hub.
  • Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha ordered officials to root out all trafficking camps in all provinces within 10 days. 
  • But observers said not only is the prime minister’s 10-day order unfeasible given the magnitude of the issue – several rights groups estimated the number of camps to be in the hundreds – but it’s also indicative of the unrealistic outlook Thailand is taking toward its deeply entrenched human trade.
  • Though the revelation of the grave-riddled camps may have elicited a fresh round of dramatic-sounding policies and cosmetically concerned investigations, Thai officials have long known about, and even acknowledged, the existence of the camps.
Private Media:

Radio Free Asia, May 8: “Another 30 graves of migrants found as Thais expand investigation

  • Authorities in Thailand said they found 30 more graves of suspected illegal migrants in the south of the country, amid a deepening human trafficking scandal that has seen a deputy mayor arrested and about 50 police officers transferred from their posts.
  • So far, the authorities have found the bodies of 32 migrants.
  • Villagers said the graves were in what they believed to be a former camp for trafficking stateless Rohingya Muslims from western Myanmar. Members of this minority undertake perilous journeys by sea and land to escape religious and ethnic persecution as well as search for jobs.

Radio Free Asia, May 11: “Thailand calls for regional cooperation to stop human trafficking

  • Following the discovery of the graves, the junta in Bangkok is seeking the cooperation of Malaysia and Myanmar to help combat the growing human smuggling problem in the region.
  • Southern Thailand is notorious as a transit point for the trafficking into Malaysia of Rohingya Muslims, a stateless minority in Myanmar fleeing persecution.
  • Bangladesh’s envoy in Thailand Saida Muna Tasneem said her country was also willing to cooperate with Thailand to stem the problem.
  • Meanwhile in Dhaka, State Minister of Home Affairs Asaduzzaman Khan Kamal told reporters that the Bangladeshi government would crack down on people-smuggling. “Law and enforcement agencies will go after traffickers … who are smuggling Bangladeshi men or Rohingya using Thai routes for trafficking into Malaysia, and bring them to justice,” he said.
  • Several arrests have been made in Thailand relating to human trafficking charges in this event.

Democratic Voice of Burma, May 12: “Official camps for Rohingya migrants, says Thai police chief

  • Thai national police chief Somyot Pumpunmuang has proposed setting up official camps to shelter Rohingya migrants in a bid to regulate the influx of migrants and to deal decisively with human trafficking.
  • According to Pol-Gen Somyot, the Thai government’s efforts to repatriate Rohingya migrants are currently failing. As a result, he says a new solution is needed to address this national problem.
  • Pol-Gen Somyot said the proposed shelters will allow the government to handle the problem in a systematic manner. However, he admitted the idea might attract more Rohingya migrants to Thailand.
  • The national police chief’s move has been welcomed by human rights defenders but the government and national security authorities have distanced themselves from it.
  • Human rights lawyer Surapong Kongchantuk, from the Lawyers Council of Thailand, said the proposed shelters would be the first step by the government to tackle the Rohingya migrant problem in a systematic manner. They would provide proper documentation and assistance. However, they should be temporary and not a form of refugee camp.
International Media:

Bangkok Post, May 11: “Satun politician held, Rohingya trafficking boss hunted

  • A local politician in Satun, who is a key suspect in the Rohingya trafficking investigation following the discovery of mass graves in the South, has been arrested while the "big boss" of the trafficking ring is still being hunted down, police say.
  • Mr Arbu is among 49 people for whom arrest warrants have been granted for their links to Rohingya trafficking networks. Of the 49, 15 have been detained.
  • Police are investigating whether the "big boss" behind the network in Satun, who has been identified as "Sia T", has fled abroad.

Bangkok Post, May 11: “Jungle search continues for Rohingya death camps

  • Police and soldiers searched in difficult terrain for more illegal migrant detention camps in the lower South on Monday as the operation to shut down the violent people smuggling network continued. 
  • An army chief explained that they are conducting searching where it is believed that Rohingya could be being detained illegally. About half of suspected sites have been searched at this point.
  • A solution to the problem also needed cooperation from neighbouring countries, because Thailand was only a staging post in the middle of the migration route, he said.
  • The army chief said that officers were transferred away from the areas under suspicion because they had not been able to prevent or stop the illegal activities of the human traffickers in their areas.
  • Since May 1, mass graves of Rohingya migrants have been discovered in several former detention camps. About 240 Rohingya people have been rescued, and local officials arrested.
2. Rohingya rescued off Aceh
State-owned Media:

Myanmar Times, May 11: “Almost 500 Rohingya rescued off Aceh

  • Rescuers yesterday brought ashore 469 migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh after their wooden boat arrived off Aceh in northwest Indonesia, an Indonesian official said.
  • Darsa, a disaster management agency official, said the group had arrived near a beach in north Aceh district early yesterday and were told to swim to shore.
  • According to one migrant, five boats had departed from Myanmar last week to escape the conflict, Darsa said.
  • “He said the Muslims were beaten and had hot water poured on them and they just wanted to get out of Myanmar as soon as possible, to anywhere where they could seek refuge,” he said.
  • Darsa said there were 83 women and 41 children on board. One of the women was pregnant and some of the children were aged under 10.
3. Nearly 2,000 migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh rescued in Indonesia, Malaysia
State-owned Media:

Myanmar Times, May 11: “Nearly 2,000 migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh rescued in Indonesia, Malaysia

  • Nearly 2,000 migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh have been rescued or swum to shore in Malaysia and Indonesia, authorities said Monday, warning that still more desperate migrants could be in peril at sea.
  • Thousands of impoverished Muslim Rohingya – “a minority unwanted by Myanmar's government” -- and Bangladeshis have been braving a perilous sea and land trafficking route through Thailand and into Malaysia, Indonesia and beyond every year.
  • Malaysian police said people-smugglers had dumped more than 1,000 hungry migrants in shallow waters off the coast of the resort island of Langkawi since Sunday.

Myanmar Times, May 12: “Unclear future for thousands of rescued trafficking victims

  • The number of smuggled migrants stranded on Malaysian and Indonesian shores continues to climb as boats are abandoned or forced to reroute amid Thailand’s latest crackdown on the human trafficking trade, officials and migration experts said yesterday.
  • More than 500 refugee seekers were recovered from two tiny, overcrowded wooden boats in Indonesia’s Aceh region on May 10, while several more boats unloaded on Malaysia’s Langkawi Island later that night.
  • With Myanmar typically unwilling to accept back Rohingya – whom the government calls Bengali – and Thailand unwilling to consider them as refugees, it is unclear where the smuggled migrants will go next.
  • “Rohingya often end up in indefinite administrative detention in the Thai immigration lock-up, or in a shelter operated by the Thai government,” said Phil Robertson, deputy director of HRW’s Asia division. “In either case, they are left in a permanent limbo unless they decide to escape and make their own way, or agree to be handed over to brokers in the guise of a so-called ‘soft deportation’ in which Thai authorities never actually send the person over the border.”

Myanmar Times, May 12: “SE Asia governments urged to save thousands of migrants feared adrift at sea

  • Southeast Asian governments on Tuesday faced international appeals to rescue thousands of migrants believed to be stranded at sea without food and water, with warnings that many may die if action is not taken.
  • The escalating alarm over the region's refugee crisis came as Indonesia's navy said it had turned away a boat carrying hundreds of migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh to an uncertain fate.
  • Nearly 2,000 migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh have swum ashore, been rescued or intercepted off Malaysia and Indonesia in recent days after Thailand -- a key stop on human-smuggling routes -- launched a crackdown on the trade.
  • The Arakan Project, a Rohingya rights group, has said as many as 8,000 people may be adrift and the International Organization for Migration (IOM) said search and rescue operations are urgently needed.

Myanmar Times, May 13: “Malaysian authorities to launch air search in response to distress calls

  • Malaysian maritime authorities will launch an aerial search today for boats believed to be carrying thousands of people fleeing Rakhine State and Bangladesh.
  • The decision comes after reports that Rohingya Muslims on board a ship somewhere between Malaysia and Thailand had called for urgent help, saying those on board were running out of food and water and at risk of death. It has been estimated that as many as 6000 people could be stuck at sea as a result of a crackdown by the Thai authorities on human traffickers.
  • Malaysia’s policy remains that people should not be allowed to land on Malaysian shores unless the vessels were leaking water or in danger of sinking. Authorities will be carefully checking the conditions of boats and are worried about a repeat of the recent sinking of a boat in the Mediterranean that left upwards of 800 people dead.
Private media:

Democratic Voice of Burma, May 8: “2,000 Rohingya rescued off coasts of Malaysia, Indonesia

  • Four boats carrying some 1,400 Rohingya migrants were rescued off the coasts of Indonesia and Malaysia on Monday, officials said, a day after nearly 600 others arrived in a wooden vessel off Indonesia’s Aceh.
  • All the boats appear to have been abandoned as Thailand, their usual destination, cracks down on the trafficking of ethnic Rohingya Muslims bound for neighbouring countries, after the discovery of dozens of remains in mass graves at ‘slave camps’ in the Thai south.
  • Story reported as above.

Radio Free Asia, May 14: “Myanmar official denies reports of Rohingyas among rescued boat-people

  • An official from western Myanmar’s Rakhine state on Wednesday denied reports by the international media that up to 2,000 boat refugees rescued off the coasts of Malaysia and Indonesia earlier this week are ethnic Muslim Rohingyas who fled persecution in his region.
  • Maung Maung Ohn, the chief minister of Rakhine state, told RFA’s Myanmar Service it was “impossible” that the rescued refugees were from his region. “Rakhine State is stable right now—the [temporary identification] white card process in the state is going well and people who hold the cards have accepted it,” he said of the bid by ethnic minorities, including roughly half a million Rohingyas, to gain citizenship in Myanmar.
  • “Is it impossible that the boat people in Malaysia and Indonesia are from Myanmar. It was possible in the past, but now it is … almost impossible.”
  • “If they say they are Rohingyas, it shouldn’t be said they are only from Myanmar.”
International Media:

This story received ongoing coverage in The Globe and Mail, BBC, Yahoo, TIME, Al Jazeera, New York Times, CTV, NPR, Newsweek, The Guardian and many others.

4. The business of selling humans
Private Media:

Radio Free Asia, May 13: “Migrant crisis hits the shores of Malaysia, Indonesia

  • Nearly 1,600 illegal migrants have come ashore in Malaysia and Indonesia in the past two days, and thousands more may still be at sea after Thailand launched a crackdown on human trafficking.
  • Meanwhile, the Indonesian Navy on Monday intercepted another boat full of migrants and sent it toward Malaysia, the Associated Press reported.
  • The surge in illegal sea journeys in the Andaman Sea and Strait of Malacca comes amid a Thai governmental crackdown against human trafficking that followed the discovery earlier this month of the bodies of 32 migrants in southern Songkhla province.
  • The migrants are a combination of ethnic Rohingya, a stateless Muslim minority fleeing persecution in predominantly Buddhist Myanmar, and Bangladeshis.

Democratic Voice of Burma, May 14: “Malaysia calls on Burma to stop oppressing Rohingya

  • Southeast Asia must send a “very strong message” to Burma to stop oppressing its Rohingya minority, who are part of a surge in boat people raising fears of a regional humanitarian crisis, a Malaysian government official said on Thursday.
  • Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Tuanku Jaafar said Southeast Asia’s growing refugee problem was due in large part to Burma’s treatment of Rohingya.
  • “We need to send a very strong message to Myanmar that they need to treat their people with humanity. They need to be treated like humans, and cannot be so oppressive.”
International Media:

Bangkok Post, May 10: “The big issue: The business of selling humans

  • Opinion piece on the deep roots of human trafficking and slavery in Thailand.
  • ‘Feigned shock and surprise is not an acceptable response’
  • Examines the history and numbers of human trafficking in Thailand.

Reuters, May 8: “Bay of Bengal people-smuggling doubles in 2015: UNHCR

  • An estimated 25,000 Rohingyas and Bangladeshis boarded people-smugglers' boats in the first three months of this year, twice as many in the same period of 2014, the U.N. refugee agency UNHCR said on Friday.
  • Many of the migrants are Rohingya Muslims from western Myanmar and from Bangladesh hoping to escape religious and ethnic persecution and work abroad.
  • The most common smuggling route takes them from Myanmar and Bangladesh to the Ranong area of southern Thailand, followed by a day-long road trip to smugglers' camps toward the border with Malaysia.
  • “Conditions in the smugglers' camp are horrific. People are held and abused until their relatives pay for their release," the UNHCR said.
  • UNHCR spokesman Adrian Edwards said people paid to be smuggled without realizing their money would later be extorted by torture, and the trafficking business was so lucrative that children were being abducted and forced onto boats.

Bangkok Post, May 13: “Key players must attend talks

  • Opinion piece on the responsibility of Asean to combat human trafficking issues.
  • “The recent discovery of mass graves of Rohingya in Thailand's deep South should be a wake-up call for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (Asean), which is selling itself as a "caring and sharing"...“
  • Argues that the Rohingya issue has been ‘swept under the carpet’ for too long. Needs more attention from international actors.
  • “The United Nations should do more. It could assist with on-the-ground assessment of the Rohingya exodus - both inside Myanmar and at the Bangladesh border - and help to register and screen those inside Thailand.”
5. Malaysia to push back Rohingya unless boats are sinking
International Media:

TIME, May 13: “Malaysia to push back Rohingya unless boats are sinking

  • Despite the recent focus on illegal immigrants and human trafficking in the area, Malaysia will not accept refugees unless their boats are in serious condition. “We won’t let any foreign boats come in,” Tan Kok Kwee, first admiral of Malaysia’s maritime enforcement agency, said Tuesday.
  • The United Nations pleaded for countries in the region to keep their borders open and help rescue those stranded.
  • Hours earlier, Indonesia pushed back a boat packed with hundreds of Rohingya and Bangladeshis, saying they were given food, water and directions to Malaysia — their original destination.
  • Southeast Asia is in the grips of a spiraling humanitarian crisis, with about 1,600 migrants landing on the shores of the two Muslim-majority countries that over the years have shown the most sympathy for the Rohingya’s plight.
  • With thousands more believed to be in the busy Malacca Strait and nearby waters – some stranded for more than two months – activists believe many more boats will try to make land in coming days and weeks

Yahoo News, May 14: “Malaysia turns away 800 boat people; Thailand spots 3rd boat

  • Malaysia has turned away two boats full of migrants.
  • "What do you expect us to do?" Malaysian Deputy Home Minister Wan Junaidi Jafaar said. "We have been very nice to the people who broke into our border. We have treated them humanely but they cannot be flooding our shores like this."
  • "We have to send the right message that they are not welcome here," he told The Associated Press. Four days earlier, about 1,000 refugees landed on the shores of Langkawi, a popular resort island in northern Malaysia near Thailand. Another 600 have arrived surreptitiously in Indonesia.
  • "If we take them all in, then anyone who wants to come will come freely. I am asking if Thailand will be able to take care of them all. Where will the budget come from?," Prayuth said. "No one wants them. Everyone wants a transit country like us to take responsibility. Is it fair?" he said.

** This story also received coverage in The Guardian, Sky News and many other international outlets.

6. Tribunal rules white card voting rights unconstitutional
State-Owned Media:

Myanmar Times, May 12: “Tribunal rules white card voting rights unconstitutional

  • The Constitutional Tribunal has ruled that giving holders of temporary identity cards – better known as white cards – the right to vote is unconstitutional.
  • The nine-member tribunal announced the decision on May 11 in response to a case filed by 24 lawmakers following parliament’s decision to give white-card holders the right to vote in a referendum law for amending the 2008 constitution.
  • Article 11(a) of the Referendum Law enacted earlier this year prescribed that the citizens and temporary identity card holders are eligible to vote in the referendum and be included on electoral rolls.
  • The prospect of allowing white-card holders to vote also prompted fierce protests in Rakhine State, where more than 80 percent of white cards have been issued, and smaller demonstrations in Yangon.
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