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Myanmar Migrants Rescued in Thailand

Myanmar nationals who were rescued by Thai military in Sungai Kolok, a town in Narathiwat province, near the border with Malaysia on May 13, 2020, after the group had been abandoned by a labor agent taking them to Malaysia. (Courtesy photo)

Twenty Myanmar trafficked migrants stranded at the Thai-Malaysia border for two months have been rescued, according to an official of the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok.

U Sai Aye, the official interpreter of the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok, told VOA Burmese that the victims had languished in one room after an agent, who had promised them jobs in Malaysia, abandoned them in the face of travel restrictions related to the coronavirus pandemic.

When the embassy received a call from the group, none of the migrants knew where they were. The Myanmar Embassy requested assistance from the Thai military.

The Thai military, with the help of immigration police, rescued the group in Sungai Kolok, a town in Narathiwat province, near the border with Malaysia, according to Sai Aye. The Thais handed over the victims to Myanmar authorities.

The labor agent, who was trafficking the Burmese, had charged each 1 million Myanmar kyats ($1,000) and promised to take them from Myanmar to Malaysia via Bangkok, according to Sai Aye. The agent told the victims they did not need passports for the trip, which was routed through illegal border crossings.

When all border crossings became difficult because of heightened security designed to contain the spread of COVID-19, the agent abandoned the group, according to Sai Aye.

The group eventually managed to contact the embassy, which gave the GPS information from their call to the Thai military.

"They were rescued this morning and are safe under military care," Sai Aye said Tuesday. He added that the victims will be handed over to Thai Immigration for repatriation.

There is no information on the agent's whereabouts.

Late last month, Thai authorities in the same Sungai Kolok district of Narathiwat arrested seven Myanmar nationals, Department of Special Investigation deputy director-general Traiyarit Temahiwong told the Bangkok Post. The youngest person arrested was 15 years old, according to the newspaper.

Trafficking report

Myanmar "is not making significant efforts" to eliminate trafficking, according to the 2019 U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons Report.

Although the State Department credits the government with raising awareness of trafficking, the report states that "there were reports that government officials were complicit in both sex- and labor-trafficking, including by hindering law enforcement efforts against the perpetrators."

The State Department report found that Thailand "is making significant efforts" to meet the minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking.

"These efforts included identifying more victims, sentencing convicted traffickers and complicit officials to significant prison terms, developing several manuals in partnership with civil society to standardize anti-trafficking trainings and policies," according to the report. "Labor inspectors, for the first time, identified and referred potential victims to multidisciplinary teams, resulting in the identification of labor trafficking victims."

The report pointed out problems in Thailand, where "the government restricted the movement and communication of victims residing in government shelters, official complicity continued to impede anti-trafficking efforts, and officials did not consistently identify cases of trafficking, especially labor trafficking."

Malaysia is "making significant efforts" to eliminate trafficking, according to the State Department report. Malaysia has "continued to overhaul its foreign worker management system." However, the report added that the "government's victim protection efforts remained largely inadequate and some rehabilitation services such as medical care, telephone calls, freedom of movement, and the issuance of work permits were inconsistently implemented, if at all."