In South-East Asia, an area notoriously known for its Golden Triangle of opium-producing countries, trafficking through the porous frontiers of Myanmar, Thailand and Bangladesh isn’t solely confined to batteries of drugs, but extends to flesh.
The market of human trafficking is a deep-rooted, complex and resilient commerce, the nexus of its illicit activities tying up the triad in a history of abuse, spilling over to the ring of peripheral neighbours such as India, Malaysia and Nepal.
Forced labor and sex exploitation in the global pattern of trafficking of an estimated 22 million peoples (UN Drugs and Crime Report 2012) constitutes South-East Asia’s most daunting human rights challenge.
The bane of such prevalent human rights violations was recently put into relief when Thai police uprooted hundreds of imprisoned Rohingya Muslims from the squalor of an official refugee camp bordering Malaysia. Following up on an alarming report last month by Reuters putting forward alleged records of Rohingyas being held hostage in camps, the police were prompted to launch a raid.
Several investigations conducted by various human rights activists and foreign media in the past decade have unveiled the woeful reality of sustained minority discrimination leading to segregation amidst well-establish routes for human smugglers. Thailand, with Bangladesh, have been the two main source countries for the persecuted Rohingya peoples fleeing the ethnic cleansing plaguing the brittle democratic state of Myanmar.
The religious-based violence between the Muslims and the Buddhist community has been ongoing since the independence of Myanmar in 1948, marking an era of humanitarian and human rights crisis. In a climate of historic animosity, the ethnic minority was coined by the UN Human Rights Council as one of the most persecuted and largest stateless groups in the world.
The Rohingya have been subjected to a battery of restrictive regulations and denial of rights: stripped of their citizenship by the Burmese government in 1982, clustered in forced labor.
Living under constant threat of arbitrary arrest, detention, and extortion by a bellicose, military-backed government which unrelentingly carries out violent attacks, and hampers the delivery of humanitarian aid with impunity.
In June 2012, new waves of violence reached their paroxysm when the massacre of 10 Muslims following the killing and reported rape of a Buddhist woman, escalated into a fully-fledged slaughter engulfing the whole country and displacing over 140,000 Rohingya.
For months now, the Rohingya Muslim people have been targeted in a campaign that a Human Rights Watch report has described as “ethnic cleansing”. Thus a victim of systemic and endemic crimes, the persecuted minority is compelled to escape subjugation by braving new perils, seeking refuge abroad.
The noose keeps tightening as they are trapped between severe repression in their homeland and comparable oppression in neighbouring countries.
All this puts me in mind of an Aung Aan Suu Kyi quote:
“Within a system which denies the existence of basic human rights, fear tends to be the order of the day. Fear of imprisonment, fear of torture, fear of death, fear of losing friends, family, property or means of livelihood, fear of poverty, fear of isolation.”