BANGKOK (AP) — A raid at a palm plantation in southern Thailand exposed a ring that trafficked Myanmar's ethnic minority Rohingya Muslims into the country, police said Wednesday.
The raid on Saturday came two weeks after Thailand was demoted to the lowest level in the annual U.S. rankings of governments' anti-trafficking efforts, principally over abusive practices in the seafood industry.
Acting on a tip-off, police raided a house on a palm plantation and arrested two Myanmar men who allegedly had detained 13 Rohingya for extortion for over a month in Thailand's Chumphon province, said police Maj. Gen. Warawuth Thaweechaikarn. Chumphon is about 380 kilometers (240 miles) south of Bangkok.
The 10 men and three women were part of a bigger group of about 140 refugees traveling out of Myanmar's Rakhine state by boats since May 11, but the rest were sent to different destinations after landing on the Thai shore, Warawuth said, adding that the asylum seekers were attempting to travel to China and Malaysia.
Their relatives were asked to send 50,000 baht ($1,500) to the traffickers to bring the refugees over the border to Malaysia, he said, adding that they lived in poor conditions at the plantation and that some were physically assaulted.
"We are looking for other suspects, including Thais, who have been involved in the human trafficking network. I believe there will be more arrests to come," said Col. Tikamporn Srisang of the Chumphon immigration police.
Rohingya face discrimination in Myanmar, where sectarian violence for nearly two years has left hundreds dead and more than 140,000 displaced from their homes. Many sought asylum and work in other countries, especially Malaysia, which has a Muslim majority.
Since 2013, more than 1,700 Rohingya have been arrested in Thailand after seeing their boats run aground in the country's south.