Friday, 11 April 2008

Horror of Human Trade: 54 Burmeses Die in Phuket Bound Container

Source from Phuket Wan, 10 April 2008
The container was found open on the parked truck on the main road leading to Phuket, where the dead and 67 others who survived the ordeal hoped to start a new life.
The death toll includes 37 women and 17 men.

Nine of the survivors are being treated in the local Suksomlan Hospital. Another has been taken to Ranong Hospital.

Head of Suksomlan police station in Ranong, Phuwanai Wattasamai, told Phuketwan that the people in the container were being smuggled to the holiday island by road.

When the grisly cargo was discovered on Wednesday evening, police called a doctor who helped some suffering survivors and diagnosed that the dead victims had suffocated in the container.

Survivors were rounded up and most are now being held in cells in Ranong. The container was usually used for refrigerating fish.

The incident highlights the role of ''snakeheads,'' people traffickers currently said to be cashing in on the large number of Burmese seeking to leave the country.

Witnai Jurai, a police officer based in Ranong, told Phuketwan that the container filled with people had been carried to Ranong, on the Thai side of the border, by ferry from Victoria Point, the Burmese town across the mouth of the river.

''They mostly came from Motama, near Yangon in Burma, to Victoria Point,'' he said. ''Others joined them in Victoria Point.

''The driver of the truck picked the container up on the Ranong side. Soon after, he stopped the truck and opened the back to check on his cargo.

''When he saw what had happened inside, he ran away. Local people called the police.''

The driver, a Thai, has yet to be found.

One group of Burmese, the Rohingya, who are Muslims, have been fleeing south to Ranong, Phang Nga and Phuket in such large numbers that the Prime Minister recently supported a plan to create an island detention centre in the Andaman Sea as a deterrent to others.

The Third Navy, based on Phuket and Phang Nga, has identified several islands that would be suitable for such a centre.

The deaths in the containers are likely to throw the international media spotlight onto the issue of Burmese refugees seeking a better life in Thailand, especially in the Phuket and Phang Nga construction industries.

Some Burmese have legal status but the numbers are never sufficient for the large amount of new building, especially of tourist resorts as the region fully recovers from the 2004 tsunami.

The dead victims from the container were taken to a charity foundation. They will probably have paupers' burials, the fate of Buddhists who cannot afford cremation at a temple.

The newsagency AFP reports that the migrants were supposed to pay a Thai smuggling ring 6000 baht ($US200) each to transport them from the border to Phuket, about four-hours' drive south.

Once there, they hoped to find work as day labourers.

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