reminding police to remain aware that “Burmese are also humans.”">
Brennan O’Connor
[gallery type="slideshow" ids="105721,105720,105719,105718"] In Thailand, laborers from neighboring Burma typically take the lowest paid and most dangerous work. Their marginalized status in Thai society makes them vulnerable to exploitation—especially sex workers. They suffer harassment from police and the military. When seeking employment, migrants often incur deep debts to Thai and Burmese job brokers, and Thai bosses and are easy prey for human traffickers. For the second year in a row, Thailand was designated a Tier 3 country in the US State Department’s annual Trafficking in Persons Report. The assessment followed a rise in human trafficking in the seafood industry and the discovery of trafficking syndicates operating in the country’s south, mainly involving Rohyinga Muslims from western Burma and Bangladesh. Ranong, a town on the coast of the Andaman Sea, has one of the highest ratios of Burmese nationals per population, mostly working in the seafood industry. Ranong Province is a hub for human trafficking groups. In the town itself, there are believed to be more than 100,000 workers—a number that may exceed the local Thai population. Two migrant workers from Burma, Zaw Lin and Win Zaw Tun, were recently sentenced to death for the alleged killing of two British nationals, David Miller, 24, and Hannah Witheridge, 23. Witheridge was found to have been raped before being murdered. Police have been accused of bungling evidence for the murders that took place last year on Koh Tao Island, a popular tourist destination. The suspects told lawyers they were tortured into making confessions. Late in the trial, Thai forensic expert Dr. Pornthip Rojanasunand was allowed to examine DNA found on the murder weapon— something Thai police hadn’t bothered to do. Her examination determined that the DNA collected from the murder weapon, a garden hoe, didn’t match that of the accused. After a guilty verdict was announced, thousands of Burmese nationals gathered to protest at the Thai embassy in Burma’s commercial capital, Rangoon, causing it to close for days. Other demonstrations took place in cities along Burma’s border with Thailand. In Ranong, a similar murder investigation is still ongoing. Like the Koh Tao murders, Thai police have been accused of using Burmese migrant workers as scapegoats. Aorawee Sampowthong, young Thai-Burmese woman who also goes by the name Apple, was fatally stabbed 17 times with a knife on the evening of Sept. 28. Police arrested four migrant workers implicated in her gruesome murder. As in the case of the Koh Tao murders, the accused— two of whom are minors— told lawyers they were beaten until they signed confessions. An employer of one of the accused has informed the police that the suspect was working at the time of the murder. A Thai judge recently accepted the case against the four suspects and instructed police to prepare their evidence, reminding police to remain aware that “Burmese are also humans.”

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