General news >> Friday April 11, 2008
Outrage over horror deaths
Activists demand action after Burmese suffocate
The mass suffocation of illegal Burmese migrant workers in an enclosed cold storage delivery truck heading for Phuket yesterday has highlighted the magnitude of the complex human trafficking network which the government must put an end to immediately, said human rights advocates.
The tragedy also calls into question the country’s efficiency in policing its borders and its ability to manage the migrant labour policy.
One hundred and twenty one Burmese workers were smuggled into Ranong yesterday. They were sealed inside a cold storage container six metres long and 2.2 metres wide on a 10-wheel truck on its way to Phuket when the ventilation system failed.
Fifty four people _ 17 men, 36 women and a young girl _ suffocated. Their bodies were buried in temporary graves at the Hin Dad cemetery in Ranong’s Muang district after autopsies were carried out. The 21 injured were sent to Suk Samran hospital.
The remaining 46 survivors were detained at Suk Samran district police station and charged with illegal entry.
Pol Maj-Gen Apirak Hongthong, chief of Ranong provincial police, said Damrong Phussadee, the truck owner, was interrogated but denied involvement. Mr Damrong admitted that the truck belonged to him and identified Suchon Bunplong as the driver.
Police asked the court to issue an arrest warrant for Mr Suchon, the truck driver, who fled the scene.
Human rights commissioner Sunee Chaiyarose deplored the loss of life in the human smuggling tragedy.
She said authorities could not afford to be soft on human traffickers and those behind the racket must be caught and punished.
”This goes far beyond the driver and the owner of the truck. We’re looking at a larger network,” she said.
”They could arrange to smuggle more than 100 people and could have arranged for resting places along the way,” Ms Sunee said.
She said the survivors should be treated as damaged parties and cared for. They should not be put in jail at the immigration office or be repatriated. Police should ask them for information that could lead to the arrest of those involved in the human trafficking ring, she said.
Philip Robertson Jr, a consultant on migration and workers’ rights in Southeast Asia, urged the government not to deport the survivors and provide them with humanitarian assistance.
He said the authorities must maintain momentum in suppressing the human trafficking rackets.
He also noted that similar cases usually ”go back to square one” after public interest has died down.
The activist demanded a full investigation into the deaths and said the traffickers should be brought to justice.
The incident also underlined the failure of the immigration system, while the government was not addressing labour problems despite rising demands for migrant labour, activists said.
The Labour Ministry should recruit more migrant workers and let them remain in the country longer, they said.
The Human Rights and Development Foundation yesterday condemned human smuggling.
In its statement, the foundation said it expressed grief at the unnecessary deaths of these Burmese workers.
It said these workers only wanted to seek better opportunities in life only to die in a situation that could have been avoided.
The incident would never have happened if all concerned parties had respected the human rights of these workers, said Ms Sunee.
The foundation said foreign workers had been exploited by employers and job brokers.
These workers had been forced to seek jobs outside their homeland by political and economic hardships in their countries.
The foundation suggested that Thai agencies make serious attempts to protect the rights and lives of foreign workers.
It called on the government to take legal action against those found to have engaged in human trafficking and to punish any state officials connected to the human trade.
It suggested the repatriation of the workers be delayed and they be given proper shelter while an investigation into human smuggling is under way. The foundation also called for compensation to be paid to the families of the dead without any discrimination.
Permanent secretary for labour Juthathawat Intharasuksri said the deaths were of grave concern.
He admitted there were not enough labour inspectors to deal with the influx of illegal workers, particularly in Ranong.
Nattaya Anudit of the Phuket provincial job placement office said a total of 35,116 alien workers have been registered in the province, while about 50,000 others are unregistered illegal workers.