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.
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