Myanmar Tamils facing human trafficking crisis

Myanmar Tamils facing human trafficking crisis

As the plight of Rohingya Muslims fleeing Myanmar hit headlines, minority Tamils are lesser known victims of human trafficking crisis and their situation is worse as they are not recognised as refugees, according to a media report.

Tamils, who are predominately Hindus and Christians and are descendants of rice growers in the Thaton and Bhamo districts of Myanmar, are conned by job agents who send them to Malaysia as bonded slaves.

They were fleeced by agents of human trafficking rackets who lured them to leave the country with promises of job in Malaysia, the Star paper reported.

However, they ended up being packed in the same boats with Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants, sailing for up to two weeks without food and after that being tortured at transit camps along the Thailand and Malaysia border, the daily said.

Many of them said they had sold their properties to pay the agents but ended up as bonded slaves for the trafficking syndicates, which sent them to construction sites in Penang, Kedah and Perlis states in Malaysia, the Star said.

21-year-old Tamil migrant S Parimala said many in her group left home before the military junta in Myanmar announced the issuance of identification cards during the middle of last year.

"We are in limbo because according to Rohingyas who just arrived, we could be shot if we return without identification papers and we are also living in fear of the authorities in Malaysia. We are stateless but UNHCR office refuses to give us refugee status," she told the daily.

She said about 110 Myanmar Tamils were now spread out in construction sites and living in squalid conditions.

Another migrant, James Kanna, said, "I was duped into believing that I could enter the country legally."

He added that he too tried to get refugee status but was rejected.

"I have not seen my son for a year and I don't think I can see him again. He probably thinks I am already dead," said the widower who left his son with a neighbour.
Tens of thousands of minority Rohingya Muslims facing persecution in Myanmar have fled the country in recent years.

Joined increasingly by economic migrants from neighbouring Bangladesh, they mainly headed for Malaysia and Indonesia.

The exodus was largely ignored until a crackdown on the people-smuggling trade in Thailand last month caused chaos as gangmasters abandoned their human cargos on land and sea.

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