Trafficking Boss, Accomplices Arrested in Raid on Thai Shrimp Factory

By Khin Oo Tha 13 July 2015

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — A joint task force of Thai police and anti-human trafficking personnel last week arrested five accomplices and the leader of a human trafficking ring near Bangkok, following the rescue of scores of migrants from Burma who had been confined in a shrimp peeling facility.

Maung Htone, a Burmese national from Mon State, was apprehended along with four employment brokers and the owner of the facility, according to a migrant rights advocate who assisted with the operation that freed 64 captive laborers.

“[We] had to go there about three or four times, and we closely observed and took photos before we could raid the factory,” Khun Naung Oo of the Myanmar Association of Thailand (MAT), which works collaboratively with Thai authorities to identify and rescue trafficking victims, told The Irrawaddy.

“Most people dare not go there, as it is a very notorious place.”

The migrants, mostly women from Mon State and Tenasserim Division, were among some 400 employees at the facility, he said. Those removed from the site by a rescue team last Wednesday had been confined in the facility with no work documents.

A worker named Hsan Moe Aung had recently escaped and sought help at the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok, which alerted the MAT and Thailand’s anti-human trafficking task force.

“According to those who were rescued, the employer and middlemen [employment brokers] sometimes tortured them and threatened to shoot them if they resisted. They also said they were sometimes confined in [small] rooms,” Khun Naung Oo said.

MAT said Maung Htone, who is now in custody as police search for several other accomplices, was in charge of a major human trafficking operation transporting migrants from southeastern Burma to Mahachai, a port town near the Thai capital that is one of the seats of Thailand’s lucrative seafood industry.

Thai authorities are providing temporary shelter for the rescued workers, Khun Naung Oo said, and they will be deported to Burma shortly.

Thailand is host to an estimated three million migrant laborers from Burma, though only about half of them have legitimate work documents. Many migrants fall prey to human traffickers, who charge exorbitant fees for the promise of steady work and immigration paperwork.

In many cases, the documents never materialize, leaving migrants unable to move freely or seek legal recourse for poor conditions, extortion, low pay and physical abuse.

The country has come under increasing pressure in recent years over its labor and immigration practices, as it has repeatedly failed to meet international standards or adequately address the issue of human trafficking.

Last year, the US State Department labeled Thailand as a Tier 3 country—the lowest ranking on its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report—but waived sanctions that can accompany the designation.

This year’s TIP report is due out in the coming weeks, with Thailand’s ranking unlikely to improve. Thai authorities and migrant brokers have also been implicated in a massive trafficking syndicate moving stateless Rohingya refugees from Burma and migrants from Bangladesh across Thai territory en route to Malaysia.

The infamous human cargo scheme led to a regional migrant crisis earlier this year, as the early May discovery of mass graves in southern Thailand led to a sudden crackdown of the trade that caused traffickers to abandon boatloads of migrants at sea.