Burma’s Authorities Involved in Human Trafficking, says Human Rights Group

A report by Fortify Rights, an international human rights organization based in Southeast Asia, has accused members of Burma’s authorities of being involved in human trafficking.

Burma’s security forces are part of a transnational crime syndicate collecting payments from ethnic Rohingya asylum seekers fleeing persecution in Burma by boats – with authorities going as far as to even escort the human trafficking boats out to international waters, Fortify Rights claim.

Ethnic Rohingya were paying members of the police, navy and army, as much as 600,000 Kyat ($600 USD) to leave the country by boat. In one case members of the Burma Navy demanded 7 million kyat ($7,000 USD) from a criminal gang, that was transporting Rohingya to Malaysia, Fortify Rights said.

“State security forces are complicit in and profiting from the increasingly lucrative maritime human trafficking and smuggling of Rohingya Muslims from Rakhine State.” Fortify Rights said. “The vast majority of Rohingya who depart by sea soon find themselves in the custody of abusive human trafficking and smuggling gangs, who detain them in conditions of enslavement and exploitation.”

The Burma government denies the existence of ethnic Rohingya, instead claiming that they are Bengali from Bangladesh. The country’s 1982 Citizenship Law denies them citizenship, leaving them stateless.

Matthew Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights alleged that authorities were making handsome profits from the illegal activity. “Not only are the authorities making life so intolerable for Rohingya that they’re forced to flee, but they’re also profiting from the exodus,” Mr. Smith said, adding, “This is a regional crisis that’s worsening while Myanmar authorities are treating it like a perverse payday.”

Burma is on the United States Department of State’s tier-two watch list in the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, that is published annually. Tier-three is the lowest grade. The TIP report states that people displaced by the violence in Rakhine State – who are almost exclusively ethnic Rohingya – are “highly vulnerable to forced labour and sex trafficking.”

A Regional ‘Crisis’

A report by The Guardian in June reported on an international racket, which brought migrants – mainly from Burma – to work in Thailand’s fishing industry. Some of those interviewed by The Guardian reported being tortured and witnessed fellow ‘slaves’ being killed by their Thai bosses. The Global Slavery Index states that almost 500,000 people are enslaved in Thailand at this time, many are from Burma.

Mr. Smith said that the region was at crisis point. “Ignoring the Myanmar government’s responsibility for this regional crisis will only perpetuate it… The US and regional governments should work with Myanmar to end its persecution of the Rohingya and combat trafficking in a rights-respecting way.”

Fortify Rights estimated that 100,000 Rohingya had already made the journey by boat, while a further 140,000 Rohingya lived in camps in Burma, which often lack adequate supplies of even basic medicines, food and water.

The statement by Fortify Rights was released as President Barack Obama visits Burma on November 12 and 13 for the 25th annual Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) summit. The US President has the power to impose sanctions on any country failing to crack down on human trafficking and if it is given a tier three rating.

“The international community should condemn the abuses against Rohingya with a unified voice and work with Myanmar in a principled way to improve the situation,” MR. Smith said.

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