Po­lice net 22 Mus­lim teens in smug­gling crack­down

In two sep­a­rate raids over the week­end, po­lice rounded up teenagers aged 12 to 18 who had paid bro­kers to take them from Rakhine State to Malaysia for work.

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - LUN MIN MANG lun­min­mang@mm­times.com

COURT pro­ceed­ings and a manhunt have been launched af­ter po­lice dis­rupted a hu­man smug­gling pipe­line from Rakhine State to Malaysia in two sep­a­rate raids in Yan­gon this week­end.

Nearly two dozen Mus­lim teenagers be­tween the ages of 12 and 18 were rounded up by po­lice and de­tained.

Ac­cord­ing to of­fi­cials, the male teens be­ing traf­ficked are all “Ben­galis” from Rakhine State and were headed to Malaysia in search of work.

“We have al­ready in­ter­ro­gated them and found that they are from Rakhine State. They have no travel doc­u­ments, or iden­ti­fi­ca­tion like na­tional reg­is­tra­tion cards, and they spoke lit­tle Myan­mar lan­guage,” said a po­lice of­fi­cer who asked not to be named.

In the first crack­down, po­lice ar­rested five self-iden­ti­fy­ing Mus­lim Ro­hingya in Tarmwe town­ship. An­other 17 teenagers were ar­rested in Shwe Paukkan, North Okkalapa town­ship, in a com­pound. Both raids oc­curred on the night of Oc­to­ber 22.

Po­lice have iden­ti­fied four sus­pected hu­man smug­glers – Ko Win Kyaw, Ko Aye Thein, Ko Maung Kyaw and Ali Ah­mad – and have put out a war­rant for their ar­rest.

In­stead of be­ing “re-ed­u­cated” about the dan­gers of traf­fick­ing and re­leased, as so of­ten hap­pens to smug­gling vic­tims, the Mus­lim teenagers have been charged with a host of crimes and are ex­pected to ap­pear in court to­day.

“They paid the hu­man smug­glers some money so that the smug­glers would take them from Rakhine State to Yan­gon and then on to Malaysia,” said the po­lice of­fi­cer.

The teenagers re­port­edly paid K1.1 mil­lion (US$860) each to be brought to Yan­gon. A fur­ther pay­ment of K1.2 mil­lion was ex­pected be­fore the trip to Malaysia.

The teenagers told po­lice they are from Mrauk-U, Min­bya and Kyauk­taw town­ships. They trav­elled with bro­kers over­land to Magwe Re­gion, where they were trans­ferred to a dif­fer­ent team of han­dlers. The teens were held in a Yan­gon safehouse for nearly one week be­fore po­lice, act­ing on a tip-off, dis­cov­ered them.

Rakhine State is home to over 1 mil­lion mostly state­less Mus­lims who self-iden­tify as Ro­hingya but are com­monly re­ferred to as “Ben­galis” by those who per­ceive them as in­ter­lop­ers from neigh­bour­ing Bangladesh. Many have faced se­vere re­stric­tions on their move­ment, with limited ac­cess to healthcare, food and ed­u­ca­tion since 2012 in­ter­com­mu­nal vi­o­lence in the state.

The first half of 2015 saw record num­bers of Mus­lim Ro­hingya flee­ing Rakhine State through con­verted fish­ing boats op­er­ated by hu­man smug­glers, in voy­ages that all too of­ten turned deadly. But af­ter a re­gional crack­down on the An­daman Sea routes last year, traf­fick­ers have in­creas­ingly re­sorted to over­land jour­neys, a much more ex­pen­sive pipe­line out of the coun­try.

Yan­gon po­lice said they were alerted to the most re­cent smug­gler jun­ket this week­end by “lo­cal sources”.

Res­i­dents of IDP camps in Rakhine State have al­leged that govern­ment and mil­i­tary of­fi­cials are in­volved in the hu­man smug­gling trade, or are at least paid to look the other way. These ac­cu­sa­tions have also been lev­elled in an­nual US Traf­fick­ing in Per­sons re­ports.

Po­lice have levied charges against the at-large hu­man smug­glers un­der sec­tions 367 and 370 of the pe­nal code for kid­nap­ping with the in­ten­tion of caus­ing gre­vi­ous hurt or en­slave­ment, and for buy­ing or sell­ing a per­son as a slave.

The 22 smug­gled teens are ex­pected to ap­pear be­fore North Okkalapa Town­ship Court to­day un­der al­le­ga­tions of be­ing “il­le­gal in­trud­ers”. They are fac­ing charges un­der the Res­i­dents of Burma Reg­is­tra­tion Act of 1949.

Yes­ter­day evening, the de­tainees were taken to North Okkalapa Gen­eral Hos­pi­tal for a med­i­cal ex­am­i­na­tion to help de­ter­mine their age, with some iden­ti­fy­ing as mi­nors.

Pro­vi­sions in the 1993 Child Law pre­vent chil­dren from be­ing tried as adults or be­ing held crim­i­nally re­spon­si­ble.

Ac­cord­ing to a Yan­gon-based lawyer, chil­dren un­der 16 years old can­not be pros­e­cuted the same way as adults and can be sen­tenced to at most seven years in a “re­ha­bil­i­ta­tion cen­tre”.

In Au­gust 2015, nine Mus­lim chil­dren and one mother were ar­rested en route to Yan­gon. All 10 had agreed to pay K1 mil­lion each to a bro­ker who promised to ar­range them jobs in Yan­gon.

‘They [the traf­fick­ing vic­tims] have no travel doc­u­ments ... and they spoke lit­tle Myan­mar lan­guage.’

Yan­gon po­lice of­fi­cer Speak­ing on con­di­tion of anonymity

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