Thai officials exhume remains of 26 migrants at mass grave; Grim details emerge of ‘virtual prison camp’

sources by : http://www.abc.net.au/news/2015-05-02/bodies-of-8-migrants-unearthed-at-thailand-virtual-prison-camp/6440012

Thai officials exhume remains of 26 migrants at mass grave; Grim details emerge of ‘virtual prison camp’

Updated Sat at 8:51pm

The remains of 26 migrants thought to be from Myanmar or Bangladesh have been exhumed from a mass grave in Thailand after police ended their search for bodies.

Thai forensic teams spent much of Saturday digging out badly decayed skeletons from shallow graves covered by bamboo and a few of feet of dirt at the abandoned jungle camp in Sadao district, in Songkhla province.

“In total we have 26 bodies. As far as I know one is a woman. We still cannot tell the cause of their deaths,” the head of the forensic team Police General Jarumporn Suramanee told the AFP news agency.

“There are no more bodies. Every hole has been searched.”

The site’s discovery just a few hundred metres from the border with Malaysia again laid bare Thailand’s central role in a regional human trafficking trade.

Thailand’s police chief has described the area as a “virtual prison camp” where migrants were held in makeshift bamboo cages.

Two survivors – men aged 25 and 35 – told doctors they had spent months at the camp despite falling sick and having little to eat.

“Both are malnourished, have scabies and lice,” doctor Kwanwilai Chotpitchayanku said at Padang Besar hospital.

“The older man could not walk, he had to be carried off the mountain. He hadn’t eaten anything for two days before he was found. He told the translator he had a fever in the jungle for two months.”

Doctors said the men had not been fully identified but were from either Bangladesh or Myanmar.

Both men were rigged to IV drips and were frail despite their young ages.

The border zone with Malaysia is criss-crossed by trafficking trails and is notorious for its network of secret camps where smuggled migrants are held, usually against their will, until relatives pay up hefty ransoms.

“The camp is located high up on a hill,” police general Aek Angsananont said, adding exhumations of the shallow graves had resumed on Saturday.

A rescue worker said four of the dead were “skeletons” while the fifth died just a few days ago, seeming to indicate the camp had been in existence for some time.

Trafficking in Thailand ‘out of control’

Tens of thousands of migrants from Myanmar, mainly from the Rohingya Muslim minority, and also increasingly from Bangladesh, make the dangerous sea crossing to southern Thailand, a well-worn trafficking route often on the way south to Malaysia and beyond.

Thousands of Rohingya – described by the UN as one of the world’s most persecuted minorities – have fled deadly communal unrest in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state since 2012.

Thailand says it is cracking down on the trafficking networks on its soil after revelations that government officers, police and navy officials have been involved in the lucrative trade in humans fleeing poverty and persecution.

In June the United States dumped Thailand to the bottom of its list, or to “Tier 3”, of countries accused of failing to tackle modern-day slavery.

Rights groups say traffickers are changing their tactics as the crackdown bites and are also holding thousands of migrants at sea for endless weeks awaiting payment before releasing them.

Thailand’s human trafficking problem is “out of control”, according to Brad Adams, Asia director of Human Rights Watch.

“The finding of a mass grave at a trafficking camp sadly comes as little surprise,” he said, urging the UN to join the probe to bring those responsible to justice.

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