Migrant women workers increasingly unsafe

by Amrit Paudyal

Kathmandu, June 28: The need for equipping women heading for foreign employment with training on different skill sets for securing their profession and destination was emphasized on Sunday.

At an interaction organized jointly by Foreign Employment Promotion Board and Media Mobilization for Sustainable Development, the concerned stakeholders pointed out that majority of the women workers heading abroad were involved in domestic work and in the entertainment sector drawing increasing violence against them.

Board Director Shivaram Pokharel spoke of the preparations for launching various skill trainings for would-be women migrant workers in view of the possibility of more women heading abroad for employment in the aftermath of the massive earthquake.

On the occasion, Shova Kharel, a representative of the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare said the human trafficking racket had become active in trying to allure women with various schemes so as to sell them. Kharel stressed the need for giving consultations to the women at various levels before they acquire passports.

Foreign Employment Promotion Board member and former entrepreneur Sita Devkota and Women’s Rights Forum Chairperson Srijana Pun underscored the urgency on part of the rights activists to stop the trend of traffickers alluring the women towards countries banned by the government and taking them there through a different country.

Media Mobilization for Sustainable Development Chair Neha Sharma said that of the total of 415 women that have returned from foreign employment, 86 were pregnant while more than 100 women were in prison in African countries and Dubai including other Middle Eastern countries. Sharma added that 41 women migrant workers had committed suicide.

At the programme, a documentary on the unwarranted sufferings of the women working in various countries was shown.

from DC Nepal (http://www.dcnepal.com/news/news.php?nid=156088)

Limbo in Thai Dentention

Thai authorities have refused to grant refugee status to hundreds of Rohingya who arrived through human traffickers.

by Hanna Hindstrom

PHUKET, Thailand — Roshida was languishing in a squalid displaced people’s camp in western Myanmar when an unfamiliar man offered her a job in a nearby city. Unemployed with two children, she immediately agreed. The next day, she was packed into the belly of a cargo ship anchored in the Bay of Bengal.

“That’s when I realized I had been sold,” says Roshida, a 25-year-old ethnic Rohingya who only uses one name. She hasn’t heard from either of her young children since.

She found herself in an airless room full of desperate captives, including mothers clutching infants and frightened teenagers crying for their parents. Some had been abducted, she says, while others had been promised jobs or arranged marriages in Malaysia. The boat lingered for several weeks near Rakhine state in western Myanmar, gathering about 400 people, mostly other Rohingya Muslims — a persecuted ethnic group from Myanmar — and Bangladeshis, before setting sail for Thailand. Passengers each received one cup of water and a scoop of rice daily. A Bangladeshi man who begged for water one morning was beaten to death and tossed overboard.

“When I was on the boat, I was crying. I missed my kids,” recalls Roshida, now staying at a shelter in southern Thailand. “They told me, ‘If you cry, I will beat you and throw your body into the sea.’”

She is one of thousands of people exploited by a flourishing human trafficking network that transports desperate and often unwilling Rohingyas and Bangladeshis to Malaysia through Thailand. Over 25,000 people have embarked on the perilous journey since the start of this year, with hundreds dying en route, according to the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Most new arrivals are held in transit camps in Thailand’s Ranong and Phang Nga provinces before they are stuffed into trucks heading for the border with Malaysia.

For several weeks, Roshida was confined to a collapsing bamboo hut draped in muddy tarps somewhere in the jungles of Thailand’s Songkhla province. Once there, the brokers demanded $1,600 to release her in Malaysia.

 

“I told them, ‘You lied to me! I don’t have any money.’ So they burned me with cigarettes, and they beat me,” she says, lifting her dress to reveal dark scars on her feet.

In less than a month, three people died from disease, she says, and women became the targets of verbal abuse and sexual violence.

“Smugglers would take young girls who looked attractive away into the forest nearby,” she says. ““[The girls] refused to talk about it when they came back.”

Fearing for her life, Roshida tried to escape three times. Twice she was captured by locals and returned to her traffickers. Each time she was sent back, they shackled her and beat her with wooden rods. On her third attempt, she ran into a Thai couple on a rubber plantation. They called the police.

But her ordeal didn’t end there. Instead of helping her, Thai authorities accused her of entering the country illegally and jailed her for three months. In April she was finally transferred to a shelter for women and children. Now she is anxiously waiting for news about her children back in Sittwe, Myanmar.

Monitoring groups say a growing number of boat arrivals are being trafficked, coerced or misled by unscrupulous brokers. Members of Myanmar’s persecuted Rohingya minority, who are denied citizenship and heavily ostracized in the Buddhist-majority country, are easy targets. Over 140,000 people are confined to official displacement camps in Rakhine, where they are unable to travel freely or secure decent work. Nearly 10 percent of the roughly 1 million Rohingya in Myanmar are estimated to have fled since a surge in violence between Buddhists and Muslims began in 2012.

“I owned a small shop in Sittwe, but everything was burned,” says Roshida. “My husband turned to alcohol. I lost everything — my house, my business.”

Victims treated as criminals

In 2014 the U.S. State Department downgraded Thailand to the lowest possible rating in its annual “Trafficking in Persons” report, citing accounts of Thai police and army officials cooperating with smuggling rings. Though the Thai government has shown little sympathy for boat people, choosing to treat new arrivals as criminals rather than victims or refugees, officials escalated their crackdown on human traffickers in May after uncovering a patchwork of mass graves scattered across southern Thailand.

Since then, Thailand has arrested about 80 people, including police officers and Interior Ministry personnel, on suspicion of complicity with human trafficking. But only one army official was among them, raising concerns that the Thai military junta — which seized power in a coup last year — is reluctant to target its brass. No one has been arrested in Phang Nga, a hub for trafficking, even though local volunteers are maintaining a 24-hour road checkpoint along a crucial transit route.

Thailand’s crackdown has had a disastrous effect on victims. Thousands of people were cast adrift in the Andaman Sea after traffickers abandoned their ships and fled into hiding. Still, Thailand has steadfastly refused to open its borders to unwanted arrivals, opting to push boats back from shore. If they make it to land, men, who constitute the majority of boat people, are held in detention centers or prisons, while women, minors and those identified as trafficking survivors are mostly housed in shelters. Until March, Rohingyas were routinely deported to Myanmar. About 500 to 700 Rohingyas are estimated to remain in Thailand.

 

Trafficking victims have more rights than people who have been smuggled, according to Matthew Smith, the executive director at Fortify Rights, which is why “certain governments have been loath to consider these abuses in the context of trafficking.” The problem, he said, is particularly acute in Thailand, where “authorities have consistently underestimated the number of survivors of trafficking.”

Yet the Thai government insists that trafficking victims are processed in accordance with international standards. The governor of Phang Nga, Prayoon Rattanaseri, says that his province is a “role model” for victim protection and has identified over 150 trafficking survivors since last year. He blames language barriers and a dearth of Rohingya interpreters for any mistakes in registering victims.

At Roshida’s shelter, only two of the 79 people there have been classified as trafficking victims. Both are Bangladeshi. One of them is Hassan, a 22-year-old from Dhaka who was drugged and abducted in Teknaf in southern Bangladesh last year. He recently testified in Thailand’s first major case against human traffickers operating in the Andaman Sea. Unlike many other arrivals, Hassan has been able to earn a modest living working on a nearby rubber plantation.

Stuck in the middle

In late May, Thailand hosted a regional meeting to address the burgeoning boat crisis, with officials pledging to boost humanitarian access for the UNHCR and the International Organization for Migration (IOM). But critics say Thailand, which has not signed the U.N. refugee convention, has been reluctant to fulfill its promises. U.N. agencies still have only restricted access to Rohingya boat arrivals, many of whom are kept in cramped detention cells without access to trauma counselors, proper health care or refugee status determination.

“[Thailand] must allow UNHCR to have unconditional access to do refugee status determination interviews and recognize the results,” says Phil Robertson, the deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch. “Second, it should permit IOM to be directly involved in trafficking victim identification assessments and provide appropriate care for all those recognized as victims.”

Only a “small handful” of Rohingyas qualify for resettlement abroad, according to Vivian Tan, the UNHCR’s spokeswoman in Bangkok, and these are the most vulnerable refugees, such as unaccompanied minors and women with young children. One of them is Abdul, a 13-year-old who was abducted from his dinghy near Sittwe last November.

“If I had wings, I would fly home right now,” says Abdul, who has been stateless his entire life. He is now staying at a shelter in southern Thailand.

The United States has urged Myanmar to provide citizenship and rights to the Rohingya in order to stem the exodus. But officials have refused to budge, insisting that the Rohingyas arrived illegally from Bangladesh.

As a result, the vast majority of Rohingyas trapped in Thailand want to continue their journeys to Malaysia, fueling concerns that they will end up back in the clutches of smugglers and traffickers. Several women in Thai shelters are simply waiting in the hope that international agencies can help them join their husbands in Malaysia, with no idea of what to do if they can’t. It is not uncommon for children and women to simply vanish from shelters despite being shortlisted for resettlement in the United States.

Although Thailand’s crackdown has forced most smugglers into hiding, activists say it is only a matter of time before they return.

“The risk [of retrafficking] is certainly there,” says Tan. “We’ve been quite concerned about reports of brokers approaching women and children in shelters. When we talk to survivors in Malaysia and Indonesia, we’ve learned that people who manage to leave detention centers [in Thailand] usually end up back in the arms of smugglers.”

Roshida’s only hope is that she can reach the United States and her children can join her.

“If I head back to Rakhine, I head back to death,” she says. “There’s no point going back there.”

from Al Jazeera America (http://america.aljazeera.com/articles/2015/6/17/In-thai-detention-centers-migrants-stuck-in-limbo.html)

Rohingya women used as sex slaves by camp guards

By Bernama

June 1, 2015

Rohingya women migrants detained at a human trafficking syndicate transit camp in Padang Besar, Thailand, were treated like sex slaves and subjected to gang rape by the camp guards, according to a woman migrant.

Nur Khaidha Abdul Shukur, 24, who was held for eight days with her baby at the camp, said: “Every night, two or three young and pretty Rohingya women were taken out from the detention pens by the guards to a clandestine place.

“They would be gang-raped by the guards. Two young women at the camp became pregnant after the gang rape,” she told Bernama through an interpreter in Alor Setar today.

According to Nur Khaidha, there were also cases of the women being taken away by the guards for several days to fulfill their lust.

“They will go missing for two to three days after being taken by the guards. I did not question them when they were returned to their pens, but I know what had happened to them.

“We knew from their expressions,” she said, adding that women who were detained in the pens were not allowed to talk among themselves and risked being beaten up.

The two pregnant Rohingya women, Nur Khaidha said, had been held at the transit camp for more than six months.

She said that in the camp where she was detained last year, there were 15 Rohingya women victims of the syndicate, with five having small children.

The five women with children were kept in the pens with their children but were not abused by the guards.

“Maybe the guards did not rape us because we had small children. But, regardless, I prayed everyday so that I would not become their rape victim,” she said.

Nur Khaidha, who is from Maungdaw, Myanmar, emboldened herself to cross the Andaman Sea on a boat to Malaysia with her child to follow in her husband’s footsteps.

Several months earlier, her husband, Nurul Amin Nobi Hussein, 25, had boarded a boat from Maungdaw to Ranong, Thailand, in his effort to set foot in Malaysia.

Unknown to his wife, he was also detained by the human trafficking syndicate at their transit camp in Bukit Wang Burma, Wang Kelian.

Compared to Nur Khaidha, who was detained for eight days at the transit camp at Padang Besar, her husband was detained in the camp at Bukit Wang Burma for 22 days before he made his escape.

Nurul Amin, who now worked at a workshop in Alor Setar, said his desire for a better life made him, his wife and son take a gamble to ride the “death” boats to Malaysia.

As what had been exposed by his wife, Nurul Amin also narrated the same story, that Rohingya women were by the guards at the transit camp in Wang Kelian.

“In the night, several of the guards will go to the pens housing the women and take them to a nearby place.

“We heard the shrieks and cries of the women because the place they raped them was very close to our pens, but as the incidents were at night, we could not see what was happening,” he said.

Now, after about a year had passed, Nurul Amin and his wife Nur Khaidha were thankful they were free of the abject misery of being detained at the transit camps of the human trafficking syndicates and wanted to start a new life.

from Rohingya Blogger (http://www.rohingyablogger.com/2015/06/women-in-camp-used-as-sex-slaves-by.html)