Human Rights advocates, Fortify Rights urged the US State Department to “assign Myanmar, Thailand, Malaysia, and Bangladesh a tier-three ranking in its forthcoming Trafficking in Persons (TIP).
Fortify Rights in a statement to the media said the tier-three ranking would “encourage more robust and effective action to combat human trafficking,” by the three Southeast Asian countries.
Fortify Rights executive director Matthew Smith, used the US Trafficking Victims Protection Act to back up his organization’s claims that “in 2014, these countries failed to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of human trafficking.”
Mr Smith was speaking last week to a hearing before the US House of Representatives Subcommittee on Africa, Global Health, Global Human Rights, and International Organizations where he presented a 15-page written testimony to the subcommittee.
Fortify Rights said its testimony was “based on hundreds of interviews conducted by Fortify Rights with witnesses and survivors of abuse and more than a dozen human traffickers.”
Fortify Rights said its testimony covered “abuses against Rohingya Muslims, who are fleeing state-sponsored violence in Myanmar, and ethnic Kachin and Shan individuals who have been displaced by ongoing armed conflict along the Myanmar-China border.”
Fortify Rights that as many as “650,000 Rohingya are displaced in Myanmar and Bangladesh and are at particular risk of being trafficked.”
Fortify Rights placed the blame for the humanitarian crisis on the Myanmar government.
“Myanmar is responsible for setting this regional crisis in motion through its ongoing campaign of persecution against the Rohingya,” said Matthew Smith. “Rohingya are being driven into the hands of human traffickers.”
Fortify Rights explained that “many Rohingya have fled to neighboring Bangladesh to escape violence, ongoing deprivations in aid, and policies of discrimination in Myanmar. However, the government of Bangladesh has deliberately denied Rohingya protection and aid, leading tens of thousands to take dangerous and risky boat journeys to Thailand or Malaysia.”
Fortify Rights allege that “trafficking brokers in Myanmar and Bangladesh often deceive Rohingya into believing that they will be transported to Malaysia, a major destination country for Rohingya. Instead, they are ferried to international waters and crammed into modern-day slave ships bound for Thailand.”
Fortify Rights claimed it had “documented killings, rape, torture, and deprivations of food and water during the journey at sea.”
Fortify Rights claim that when the trafficked people reach “Thai territory, “passengers” are transported to trafficking camps located in remote jungles and on islands where they face torture and other abuses until they can buy their freedom or are sold to the highest bidder. Rohingya women and girls have been sold into forced marriages and a potential lifetime of sexual and domestic servitude. Men have been sold to fishing boat captains as slave labor.”
Fortify Rights said Thailand had to do more to combat the trafficking of people into its territory, “Thailand prosecuted fewer human traffickers in 2014 than it did in 2013. Moreover, Thai authorities reported a mere five cases of human trafficking involving Rohingya in 2014.”
Fortify Rights claims that government officials in “Myanmar and Thailand have been complicit in a deadly trade in Rohingya asylum seekers that has generated up to $250 million dollars for transnational criminal syndicates since 2012.”
Mr Smith, Fortify Rights executive director, said that human trafficking was big business. “Traffickers are getting rich while asylum seekers pay with their lives, if the US government wants to see an end to this slave trade, it should hold these countries accountable to the established standards.”