Bangladesh and Myanmar supply the manpower to meet the huge demand for forced labour, prostitution, fishing business, and other dangerous work in both Thailand and Malaysia.
All this became a global talking point when Thailand police in May found secret human trafficking camps on their side of the border and dozens of shallow graves of both Bangladeshi and Rohingya migrant workers.
According to The Guardian, on May 25, Malaysian police uncovered 28 suspected human trafficking camps located about 500 metres from the country’s northern border, a day after authorities reported the discovery of multiple mass graves.
“We discovered 139 of what we believe are graves,” national police chief Gen Khalid Abu Bakar then told reporters.
A senior Thai army officer has turned himself in over his alleged involvement in human trafficking.
Lt General Manas Kongpaen, a senior adviser to the Royal Thai Army, is facing multiple charges, including human trafficking, unlawful detention, and extortion.
More than 50 people, including several politicians and officials, were arrested after the discovery of dozens of bodies believed to be those of Myanmar’s Rohingya migrants at the abandoned trafficking camps
near the Thai-Malaysian border.
Though several accused persons have been arrested as of now, despite credible allegations in the media and elsewhere against local representatives and law enforcement, no official or influential person has yet been arrested in Bangladesh.
On the other hand, several accused traffickers have been killed in what the police call “gunfight” with the police soon after the mass graves were found in Thailand.
On May 8, three listed criminals – Dholu Hossain, Jahangir Alam, and Jafar Alam – were killed in a “gunfight” that occurred between the police and the traffickers at midnight in Teknaf area.
Teknaf police station’s Officer-in-Charge Ataur Rahman claimed they were listed human traffickers who had several police cases against them.
On June 8, Amanullah Anu was killed. Police claim he was killed during a clash among the trafficking gangs over money distribution.
OC Ataur said that Anu was a member of a transnational human trafficking gang who had six police cases against him.
Human rights activist Khan, however, said: “Such ‘gunfight’ or ‘crossfire’ actually hide the real scenario of trafficking in this area. The real bosses are not touched.
“This business could not flourish in this way without the support of corrupt local representatives and law enforcement.”
What is happening in Thailand and Malaysia
A June 25 AP report explains how Thailand’s $7 billion seafood industry is almost wholly dependent on cheap migrant labour.
Since few Thais are willing to take the dangerous, low-paying jobs that can take them far from home, a sophisticated network of brokers and agents has emerged, regularly recruiting labourers from impoverished neighbouring countries, often through trickery and kidnapping.
Men – and sometimes children as young as 13 – are sold onto boats where they typically work 18-hour days with little food and often only boiled sea water to drink, enduring beatings and sometimes even death at the hands of their captains. Most are paid little or nothing. They can be trapped at sea for months or years at a time; transshipment vessels are routinely used to pick up catches and deliver supplies, the AP report said.
According to the 2014 Global Slavery Index (GSI), prepared by the Australian-based Walk Free Foundation, it was estimated that the number of people in modern slavery in Thailand is almost 500,000 while in Malaysia there are over 100,000 people in modern slavery.
According to the GSI, the $7 billion Thai fishing industry has been under intense scrutiny with credible reports of young men and boys enduring brutal treatment that includes severe and frequent physical abuse and threats, excessive work hours, and long periods at sea.
Victims have reported witnessing captains physically abuse and murder workers or abandon those who fall overboard.
According to the US State Department’s Trafficking in Persons (TiP) report 2014, Malaysia has failed to comply with the most basic international requirements to prevent trafficking and protect victims within its borders.
According to a UNHCR report, from June 2013 to June 2014 more than 53,000 people have fled by sea from the Bangladesh-Myanmar border region, an increase of 60% from the previous year.
“More than 20,000 boat people fled in the first six months of this year, headed towards the Malaysia-Thailand border or on to Indonesia and Australia.”
An estimated 540 people reportedly died at sea in 2014 from beatings, starvation or dehydration, and their bodies thrown overboard.
Since the Malaysia-bound migrant seekers are struggling with poverty and unemployment opportunities in this country, they fall prey to the multi-million dollar fishing and plantation businesses in Thailand and Malaysia.
Earlier, Myanmar’s Rohingya people were the primary victims, but now Bangladeshis are also falling into the trap of forced labour in Thailand and Malaysia.
According to a well-informed source, the Bangladeshi brokers are well down the food chain, enjoying only a small slice of the massive profits that are generated by this modern-day slave trade: “The masterminds actually make fools of our Bangladeshi brokers.”
Human Trafficking In Our Times-IV: Bangladesh’s crime coast
Human Trafficking In Our Times-III: Sold into slavery for a few thousand taka
Human Trafficking In Our Times-II: Why risk your life on the open seas?
Human Trafficking In Our Times-I: The deadly route to Malaysia