ബംഗലൂരു: പൊതുഗതാഗത രംഗത്ത് രാജ്യത്തിന് തന്നെ മാതൃകയായ കര്ണാടക റോഡ് ട്രാന്സ്പോര്ട്ട് കോര്പ്പറേഷന് മറ്റൊരു ചരിത്രനേട്ടം. ഇന്ത്യയിലെ ആദ്യത്തെ ഇലക്ട്രിക് എയകര്ണ്ടീഷന്ബസ് ബംഗലൂരുവില് പരീക്ഷണ അടിസ്ഥാനത്തില് ഓടിത്തുടങ്ങി. കര്ണാടക ഗതാഗത മന്ത്രി രാമലിംഗ റെഡ്ഡിയാണ് ആദ്യബസ് യാത്ര ഉദ്ഘാടനം ചെയ്തത്.
അന്തരീക്ഷ, ശബ്ദമലിനീകരണങ്ങളില്ലാതെ തികച്ചും പരിസ്ഥിതി സൗഹാര്ദ്ദമായ ബസാണ് ബി.വൈ.ഡി കെ.9 സീരീസ് ഇലക്ട്രിക് ബസ്. ബാംഗ്ലൂര്മെട്രോപൊളിറ്റന് ട്രാന്സ്പോര്ട്ട് കോര്പ്പറേഷനും ചൈനീസ് കമ്പനിയായ ഉട്യോപ്യാ ഓട്ടോമേഷന് കണ്ട്രോളും സംയുക്തമായി 3 മാസത്തെ പരീക്ഷണ ഓട്ടമാണ് രാജ്യത്തെ ഐ.ടി തലസ്ഥാനത്ത് തുടങ്ങിയിരിക്കുന്നത്. മജസ്റ്റികില് നിന്നും കാഡുഗൊഡി വരെയാണ് ബസ് സര്വീസ് നടത്തുന്നത്. രാവിലെ 7 മുതല് വൈകീട്ട് 7 വരെ 6 സര്വീസുകളാണുള്ളത്.
കര്ണാടക ഗതാഗത മന്ത്രി രാമലിംഗ റെഡ്ഡിക്ക് പുറമെ ഉട്യോപ്യാ ഓട്ടോമേഷന് കമ്പനിയുടെ ഇന്ത്യയിലെ മാനേജിംഗ് ഡയറക്ടര് പ്രസന്ന ദേശ്മുഖും ഉദ്ഘാടന ചടങ്ങില് പങ്കെടുത്തു. ആറുമണിക്കൂര് വരെ ചാര്ജ് നില്ക്കുന്ന നാലുബാറ്ററികളാണ് ബസിലുള്ളത്. 250 കിലോമീറ്റര് വരെ ഇതുവഴി ഓടാം.18,000 കിലോഗ്രാം ഭാരമുള്ള ഈ ബസിന് മണിക്കൂറില് 96 കിലോമീറ്റര്വരെയാണ് പരമാവധി വേഗത.
െ്രെഡവര്ക്കുള്പ്പെടെ 31 സീറ്റാണ് ബസിലുള്ളത്. ഓട്ടോമൊബൈല് റിസര്ച്ച് ഇന്സ്റ്റിറ്റിയൂട്ട് ഓഫ് ഇന്ത്യ നേരത്തെ തന്നെ ബസ് സര്വീസിന് ബിഎംടിസിക്ക് അനുമതി നല്കിയിരുന്നു. വോള്വോ ബസില് ഈടാക്കുന്ന നിരക്കാണ് ഇലക്ട്രിക് ബസ് യാത്രക്കും ഈടാക്കുക. സ്റ്റോപ്പുകളുടെ വിവരങ്ങള് നല്കാന് എല്ഇഡി ഡിസ്പ്ലേയും ഇംഗ്ലീഷ്, കന്നഡ ഭാഷകളില് അനൗണ്സ്മെന്റും ഉണ്ട്.
സി.സി ടി.വി ക്യാമറകള് ഉള്പ്പെടെ അത്യാന്താധുനിക സാങ്കേതിക വിദ്യകളാണ് ബി.വൈ.ഡി കെ9 സീരീസ് ഇലക്ട്രിക് ബസിലുള്ളത്. ചൈനയില് ഇത്തരം 300ഓളം ബസുകള് സര്വീസ് നടത്തുന്നുണ്ട്. സിംഗപൂരിലും മലേഷ്യയിലും വിജയകരമായ ശേഷമാണ് ഇന്ത്യയിലേക്കും ഇലക്ട്രിക് ബസുകള് എത്തുന്നത്. സൗരോര്ജ്ജം വഴിയും ബാറ്ററികള് ചാര്ജ് ചെയ്യാനാവും എന്നതാണ് മറ്റൊരു പ്രത്യേകത. 2 കോടി രൂപയാണ് ബസിന്റെ വില.
- See more at: http://www.asianetnews.tv/technology/article.php?article=7504_first-electric-bus-in-bangalore#sthash.iBV8sItZ.dpuf
Swami Aseemanand Says the RSS Chief Mohan Bhagwat Sanctioned Terrorist Attacks
Swami Aseemanand, incarcerated in Ambala Central Jail for abetting terrorist attacks on various targets between 2006 and 2008—Samjhauta Express (February 2007), Hyderabad Mecca Masjid (May 2007), Ajmer Dargah (October 2007) and two attacks in Malegaon (September 2006 and September 2008)—which together took the lives of 119 people, has made a revelation to The Caravan which has been published in the latest issue of the magazine. In the course of over two years, Aseemanand granted four exclusive interviews to The Caravan journalist Leena Gita Reghunath inside Ambala jail, the total duration of which ran into 09 hours and 26 minutes. In the last two interviews, Aseemanand repeated that his terrorist acts were sanctioned by the highest levels of the RSS—all the way up to Mohan Bhagwat, the current RSS chief, who was the organisation’s general secretary at the time.
Aseemanand told The Caravan that Bhagwat said of the violence, “It is very important that it be done. But you should not link it to the Sangh.” (A list of questions was sent to Bhagwat, but he has not responded.)
Extract from the 11,200-word-long The Caravan article:
Over the course of our conversations, Aseemanand’s description of the plot in which he was involved became increasingly detailed. In our third and fourth interviews, he told me that his terrorist acts were sanctioned by the highest levels of the RSS—all the way up to Mohan Bhagwat, the current RSS chief, who was the organisation’s general secretary at the time. Aseemanand told me that Bhagwat said of the violence, “It’s very important that it be done. But you should not link it to the Sangh.”
Aseemanand told me about a meeting that allegedly took place, in July 2005. After an RSS conclave in Surat, senior Sangh leaders including Bhagwat and Indresh Kumar, who is now on the organisation’s powerful seven-member national executive council, travelled to a temple in the Dangs, Gujarat, where Aseemanand was living—a two-hour drive. In a tent pitched by a river several kilometres away from the temple, Bhagwat and Kumar met with Aseemanand and his accomplice Sunil Joshi. Joshi informed Bhagwat of a plan to bomb several Muslim targets around India. According to Aseemanand, both RSS leaders approved, and Bhagwat told him, “You can work on this.” Indresh added, “You can work on this with Sunil. We will not be involved, but if you are doing this, you can consider us to be with you.”
Aseemanand continued, “Then they told me, ‘Swamiji, if you do this we will be at ease with it. Nothing wrong will happen then. Criminalisation nahin hoga (It will not be criminalised). If you do it, then people won’t say that we did a crime for the sake of committing a crime. It will be connected to the ideology. This is very important for Hindus. Please do this. You have our blessings.’”
Chargesheets filed by the investigative agencies allege that Kumar provided moral and material support to the conspirators, but they don’t implicate anyone as senior as Bhagwat. Although Kumar was interrogated once by the CBI, the case was later taken over by the NIA, which has not pursued the conspiracy past the level of Aseemanand and Pragya Singh. (Joshi, who was allegedly the connecting thread between several different parts of the conspiracy—including those who assembled and those who planted the bombs—was killed under mysterious circumstances in December 2007.)
Sixty-three-year-old Aseemanand dedicated almost his entire adult life to the tribal arm of the RSS, the Vanvasi Kalyan Ashram (VKA). At the time he planned the terrorist attacks, he had been the national head of the VKA’s religious wing, the Shraddha Jagran Vibhag—a position created especially for him—for a decade. In honour of Aseemanand’s service to the Sangh, in December 2005, he was awarded a special Guruji Samman on the occasion of the birth centenary of MS Golwalkar. The award came with a one-lakh-rupee cash prize and the veteran BJP leader and former party president Murli Manohar Joshi gave the ceremony’s keynote address. Not only have the RSS and the BJP never disowned Aseemanand for his roles in the terrorist attacks, or taken back the awards, Aseemanand confessed to The Caravan that RSS-affiliated lawyers are providing his legal aid.
Knowing the national relevance of the sensitive information that Aseemanand revealed to The Caravan journalist, in an interview which was conducted with the full consent of Aseemanand, we place these facts in front of the public, along with a tape recording and transcript of parts of the conversation that mention Mohan Bhagwat. The full story is at caravanmagazine.in/reportage/believer
Date: 5 February, 2014
|Mr. Anant Nath||Dr. Vinod K Jose|
|Editor, The Caravan and Director, Delhi Press||Executive Editor, The Caravan|
Total number of interviews: 4
Dates taken: 10 January 2012, 22 June 2013, 9 January 2014, 17 January 2014
Place taken: Ambala Central Jail, Haryana
Total duration of all interviews together: 9 hours, 26 minutes, 51 seconds
Relevant audio related to Mohan Bhagwat:
Interview 3: 1:40 – 1:42
THE CARAVAN TRANSCRIPTS
Writer: Leena Gita Reghunath
Editors: Vinod K Jose (reporting and content) and Alex Blasdel (structure and story)
Copy Editor: Ajay Krishnan
Fact Checker: Manas Roshan
Transcribed on: third interview—10 January 2014; fourth interview—17 January 2014
Transcription extracts / highlights on Mohan Bhagwat:
From third interview with Aseemanand, 10 Jan 2014, Ambala Central Jail, Haryana:
@ 1 hr: 40 min:
Aseemanand: Mohan Bhagwat, Indresh and Sunil, they all came to meet me in Shabari Dham.
Sunil said to Bhagwatji: Thoda hindu ka akraman hona hai. Sangh se jude hue log hai jo yeh vichar rakhte hai. Jo bhi hoga hum tak hi rakhenge. Sangh se inko jho denge bhi nahin. Aap se koi madat nahi lenge. Aap adhikari hai is liye aap ko bata rahe hai. Is liye aap ko bata raha hai, ki hum log soch rahe hai. [We should do some violence in the name of Hindus. There are many in the Sangh who feel so. Whatever happens it will be limited to us. We will not link the Sangh with this. We won't take any help from you for this. We are letting you know because you are the top officials of the Sangh that we are planning to do this.]
Then Mohanji and Indresh, both said: Yeh bahut achcha hai. Zaroori hai. Sangh se nahi jodna. Sangh nahi karenge. [unclear] Hindutva ke liye bhi aisa koi hai. Sangh ka yeh vichar nahi hai. [This is great. It's very important that it be done. But the Sangh will not do this ... (unclear) ... That now Hindus will also have someone to do this. But don’t link this to the Sangh. Because this not the ideology of the Sangh.]
Then told me: Swamiji aap yeh karenge toh hum nishchint hoga. Koyi galat nahi hoga. Criminalization nahi hoga. Aap karenge toh crime karne keliye kar rahe hai aisa nahin lagega. Ideology ke saath juda rahega. [unclear] Bahut zaruri hai yeh hindu ke liye. Aap log karo. Aashirwad hai. Is se aage kuch bhi nahi. [If you will do this, we will be at ease with this. Nothing wrong will happen then. This will not be criminalized then. If you do it then people won't say that we did a crime for the sake of doing a crime. It will be connected to the ideology. This is very important for Hindus. Please do this. You have our blessings. Nothing more than that from us.]
Interview 4: 2:29 – 2:30
Extract from fourth interview January 17, 2014:
Aseemanand: Phir kya hua ki Mohanji bola ke [So then Mohanji told me that] “aap kaam kar sakte hai.” Indreshji bola ki “haan aap kaam kar sakte hai. Sunil ko leke aap kaam kar sakte hai. Par ham log nahi rahenge. Aap hai to ham log aapke saath hai yeh aap maan lena. Aap jo karenge galat nahi hoga. Disha teekh rahega.” [You can work on this. You can work on this with Sunil. We will not be involved. But if you are doing this, you can consider us to be with you on this. If you do this we are ensured that nothing wrong will happen. This will be on the right course (with your presence).]
This I had told Bharat and Bharat had told this to the CBI. I was surprised how CBI got to know all these things. That only me, Sunil, Bhagwatji and Indresh had met in a camp at the Shabri Dham. Yeh yeh baat hua tha [we had talked about these particular topics] – it was very surprising to me that how CBI knew about this. [In] 2005, after the Surat meeting this happened, close to Diwali.
Corrections: 1) |5 February, 2014| This press release previously stated that the reporter’s first interview with Aseemanand was in December 2011. The reporter met Aseemanand at a hearing that month. The first interview took place on 10 January 2012. 2) |9 February, 2014| An earlier line from the story, also excerpted in the press release, contained a transcription error. The line originally read: ‘According to Aseemanand, both RSS leaders approved, and Bhagwat told him, “You can work on this with Sunil. We will not be involved, but if you are doing this, you can consider us to be with you.”’ This line has been modified to: ‘According to Aseemanand, both RSS leaders approved, and Bhagwat told him, “You can work on this.” Indresh added, “You can work on this with Sunil. We will not be involved, but if you are doing this, you can consider us to be with you.”’ The Caravan regrets the errors.
- See more at: http://caravanmagazine.in/press-release#sthash.ZBb5QmnU.dpuf
‘Documentary “An American Mosque” needs to be seen by people across the globe’
Discrimination Olympics: Meddling with Muslims in Sochi
Why Putin’s Islamophobic policies pervade the Winter Olympics at Sochi.
Last updated: 17 Feb 2014 09:19
Rampant Islamophobia has cast a shadow of danger during these Olympic Games, writes Beydoun [Getty Images]
Sochi’s more than 20,000 Muslims helped build the infrastructure and stages for the 2014 Winter Olympics in Russia, where Muslim athletes from a range of participating nations will compete within these multi-million-dollar stadia, slopes, and structures, vying for gold and the glory that comes with Olympic victory.
However, for Muslims in Sochi, the rampant Islamophobia has cast a shadow of concern and danger during these Olympic Games. Coverage of the Sochi games mentions Islam and Muslims exclusively in the form ofterrorist threat, head-scarved “black widows“, and, the familiar conflation of religious observance with national security concerns.
While the Opening Ceremony showcased the well-crafted face of a “New Russia“, age-old Russian hate toward the LGBTQ community, and indeed, both indigenous and visiting Muslims, are also prominently displayed in Sochi.
During its buildup, NBC’s Bob Costas stated that the Sochi Games will, “take place against a backdrop of questions about policy differences, security, cost overruns and human rights issues, including Russia’s anti-gay propaganda law”.
The firestorm against Sochi’s brazen homophobia leading up and during the Olympics was fierce, capped by President Barack Obama sending a US delegation led by openly gay athletes. The message, from news desks and the Oval Office, was clear – the US opposed the structural homophobia built into the Sochi Olympics.
No similar statements were made of the pervasive Islamophobia encircling the Games. Rather, the media and political rhetoric in the US toward Muslims and Islam are aligned with those of Russia, and linked inextricably to terrorism. American misalignment with Russia’s per se homophobia, and its converging interests with Moscow’s framing of Muslim threat, highlights the ever more relevant observation of Derrick Bell, who held that: “Domestic civil rights policies are only promoted when they advance majoritarian (white) interests abroad.”
The policing of Muslims stateside, and its nexus to the “global war on terrorism”, has – in large part – erased word of Sochi’s brazen Islamophobia from news headlines, and, hushed the US government from calling into question the religious freedoms of Muslims in Russia.
20,000 Muslims, zero mosques
Like its rigid stance against homosexuality, Islamophobia is built deeply within the brick and mortar of Russian law. New – like Old – Russia, violently persecutes its religious minorities. The Olympic City sits on the edges of the Caucasus Mountains – the site of the 19th century decimation and displacement of Circassian Muslims. In an effort to pacify resistance, the Czar followed by Soviet strategy focused on shuttering mosques, and eliminating religious centres and meeting spaces as a strategy to ethnically cleanse the indigenous Muslims. This Russian tactic of blanket suppression has outlived czars, the Soviet Union, and still lords over the Muslim population surrounding and within the Caucasus region.
In the Mother Jones article “Why Sochi has no mosques“, Tim Murphy writes that Sochi does not have a single mosque within its bounds for its 20,000 Muslim residents. The vast majority of these Muslims “migrated to the city over the last decade to take jobs building the Olympic facilities”. The nearest mosque is in the village of Tkhagapsh, roughly 50 miles from Sochi. Likely in an effort to preempt disruptive protests, Anatoli Rykov, the interim mayor of Sochi, told reporters that talks to build Sochi’s first mosque would begin after the Olympics.
Prayers rooms have been availed to Muslim Olympians. The accommodation of Muslim athletes, however, is hardly a symbol of tolerance. But rather, a blatant effort to quell dissidence within the Olympic Village, while simultaneously, denying the rights of Sochi’s Muslim residents to practice their faith.
Sochi’s mosque-less limits is emblematic of a deeper animus toward Muslims. Conspicuous markers of Muslim identity, including beards or headscarves, legal status and Chechen or Circassian nationality, will instantly mobilise the 50,000 police forces patrolling the city.
In short, Sochi is no place for Muslims, and the Steering Committee’s welcome for the Games’ Muslim athletes will surely expire as soon as Olympic flame is put out.
Sochi: A modern Potemkin Village?
The Sochi Games have been called a “moment of personal glory” for Prime Minister Vladimir Putin. A $51 bn grand circus for the Russian strongman, showcasing his financial mettle and might for the entire world to see. However, Putin’s arrogance is only one dimension of how these Games will be remembered after its end on February 23.
Without question, Putin backs the modern Islamophobic policies in Russia today. However, the phobia that mixes with religious animus with empire, xenophobia and a racially narrow conception of authentic Russian identity, precedes the modern czar by centuries. Beyond the billion-dollar Olympic Structures that symbolise “New Russia” are deeply entrenched phobias and systems of hate that no sublime opening ceremony or state-of-the-art stadium can hide.
When the crowds are gone and the world’s cameras are far away, Sochi will be remembered as a modern “Potemkin Village”, built atop the hollowed pillars of hate that survived the fall of walls and the crumbling of iron curtains. After the final medal is awarded in Sochi, these will stand as the lasting symbols of the Winter Olympics 2014.
Khaled A Beydoun is the Critical Race Studies Teaching Fellow at the UCLA School of Law.
The views expressed in this article are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect Al Jazeera’s editorial policy.
Special Report – Thailand secretly dumps Myanmar refugees into trafficking rings
(Reuters) – One afternoon in October, in the watery no-man’s land between Thailand and Myanmar, Muhammad Ismail vanished.
Thai immigration officials said he was being deported to Myanmar. In fact, they sold Ismail, 23, and hundreds of other Rohingya Muslims to human traffickers, who then spirited them into brutal jungle camps.
As thousands of Rohingya flee Myanmar to escape religious persecution, a Reuters investigation in three countries has uncovered a clandestine policy to remove Rohingya refugees from Thailand’s immigration detention centers and deliver them to human traffickers waiting at sea.
The Rohingya are then transported across southern Thailand and held hostage in a series of camps hidden near the border with Malaysia until relatives pay thousands of dollars to release them. Reporters located three such camps – two based on the testimony of Rohingya held there, and a third by trekking to the site, heavily guarded, near a village called Baan Klong Tor.
Thousands of Rohingya have passed through this tropical gulag. An untold number have died there. Some have been murdered by camp guards or have perished from dehydration or disease, survivors said in interviews.
The Thai authorities say the movement of Rohingya through their country doesn’t amount to human trafficking. But in interviews for this story, the Thai Royal Police acknowledged, for the first time, a covert policy called “option two” that relies upon established human-smuggling networks to rid Thailand of Rohingya detainees.
Ismail was one of five Rohingya who said that Thai immigration officials had sold him outright or aided in their sale to human traffickers. “It seemed so official at first,” said Ismail, a wiry farmer with a long narrow face and tight curly hair. “They took our photographs. They took our fingerprints. And then once in the boats, about 20 minutes out at sea, we were told we had been sold.”
Ismail said he ended up in a camp in southern Thailand. So did Bozor Mohamed, a Rohingya whose frail body makes him seem younger than his 21 years. The camp was guarded by men with guns and clubs, said Mohamed, and at least one person died every day due to dehydration or disease.
“I used to be a strong man,” the former rice farmer said in an interview, as he massaged his withered legs.
Mohamed and others say they endured hunger, filth and multiple beatings. Mohamed’s elbow and back are scarred from what he said were beatings administered by his captors in Thailand while he telephoned his brother-in-law in Malaysia, begging him to pay the $2,000 (1,220.93 pounds) ransom they demanded. Some men failed to find a benefactor in Malaysia to pay their ransom. The camp became their home. “They had long beards and their hair was so long, down to the middle of their backs, that they looked liked women,” said Mohamed.
What ultimately happens to Rohingya who can’t buy their freedom remains unclear. A Thai-based smuggler said some are sold to shipping companies and farms as manual laborers for 5,000 to 50,000 baht each, or $155 to $1,550.
“Prices vary according to their skills,” said the smuggler, who spoke on condition of anonymity.
The Arakan Project, a Rohingya advocacy group based in Thailand, says it has interviewed scores of Rohingya who have passed through the Thai camps and into Malaysia. Many Rohingya who can’t pay end up as cooks or guards at the camps, said Chris Lewa, Arakan Project’s director.
Presented with the findings of this report, Thailand’s second-highest-ranking policeman made some startling admissions. Thai officials might have profited from Rohingya smuggling in the past, said Police Maj-Gen Chatchawal Suksomjit, Deputy Commissioner General of the Royal Thai Police. He also confirmed the existence of illegal camps in southern Thailand, which he called “holding bays”.
Tarit Pengdith, chief of the Department of Special Investigation, Thailand’s equivalent of the U.S. FBI, was also asked about the camps Reuters discovered. “We have heard about these camps in southern Thailand,” he said, “but we are not investigating this issue.”
Besieged by a political crisis and violent street protests this week, Thailand faces difficult questions about its future and global status. Among those is whether it will join North Korea, the Central African Republic and Iran among the world’s worst offenders in fighting human trafficking.
The signs are not good.
The U.S. State Department’s annual Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report ranks countries on their record for combating the crime. For the past four years, Thailand has sat on the TIP Report’s so-called Tier 2 Watch List, the second-lowest rank. It will be automatically downgraded to Tier 3 next year unless it makes what the State Department calls “significant efforts” to eliminate human trafficking.
Dropping to Tier 3 status theoretically carries the threat of U.S. sanctions. In practice, the United States is unlikely to sanction Thailand, one of its oldest treaty allies in Asia. But to be downgraded would be a major embarrassment to Thailand, which is now lobbying hard for a non-permanent position on the United Nations Security Council.
THE ROHINGYA EXODUS
Rohingya are Muslims from Myanmar and Bangladesh, where they are usually stateless and despised as illegal immigrants. In 2012, two eruptions of violence between Rohingyas and majority Buddhists in Rakhine State in western Myanmar killed at least 192 people and made 140,000 homeless. Most were Rohingya, who live in wretched camps or under apartheid-like segregation with little access to healthcare, schools or jobs.
And so they have fled Myanmar by sea in unprecedented numbers over the past year. Ismail and Mohamed joined tens of thousands of Rohingya in one of the biggest movements of boat people since the end of the Vietnam War.
Widespread bias against the Rohingya in the region, however, makes it difficult for them to find safe haven – and easy to fall into the hands of traffickers. “No one is there to speak for them,” says Phil Robertson, deputy director for Asia at Human Rights Watch. “They are a lost people.”
Rohingya men, women and children squeeze aboard overloaded fishing boats and cargo ships to cross the Bay of Bengal. Their desired destination is Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country where at least 31,000 Rohingya already live. As Reuters reported in July, many of these refugees were waylaid in Thailand, where the Thai navy and marine police worked with smugglers to extract money for their onward trip to Malaysia.
Hundreds of Rohingyas were arrested in two headline-grabbing raids by the Thai authorities on January 9 in the towns of Padang Besar and Sadao, both near the Malaysia border. At the time, Colonel Krissakorn Paleetunyawong, deputy commander of police in the area, declared the Rohingya would be deported back to Myanmar. That never happened.
Ismail and Mohamed were among the 393 Rohingya that Thai police say were arrested that day in Padang Besar. So was Ismail’s friend Ediris, 22. The three young men all hailed from Buthedaung, a poor township in northern Rakhine State.
Their story reveals how Thailand, a rapidly developing country in the heart of Southeast Asia, shifted from cracking down on human trafficking camps to facilitating them.
A SECRET POLICY
After their arrest, Ediris and Ismail were brought to an immigration detention center (IDC) in Sadao, where they joined another 300 Rohingya rounded up from a nearby smuggler’s house. The two-story IDC, designed for a few dozen inmates, was overflowing. Women and children were moved to sheltered housing, while some men were sent to other IDCs across Thailand.
With about 1,700 Rohingya locked up nationwide, the Thai government set a July deadline to deport them all and opened talks with Myanmar on how to do it. The talks went nowhere, because the Myanmar government refused to take responsibility for what it regards as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.
Men and teenage boys languished for months in cramped, cage-like cells, often with barely enough room to sit or stand, much less walk. In June, Reuters journalists visited an IDC in Phang Nga, near the tourist Mecca of Phuket. There were 269 men and boys crammed into a space built for no more than 100. It reeked of urine and sweat. Some detainees used crutches because their muscles had atrophied.
A doctor who inspected Sadao’s IDC in July said he found five emaciated Rohingya clinging to life. Two died on their way to hospital, said the doctor, Anatachai Thaipratan, an advisor of the Thai Islamic Medical Association.
As the plight of Rohingya detainees made world headlines, pressure mounted on Thailand. But Myanmar wouldn’t take them, nor would Malaysia. With thousands more arriving, the U.N.’s refugee agency issued an urgent appeal for alternative housing. The government proposed building a “mega camp” in Nakhon Sri Thammarat, another province in southern Thailand. It was rejected after an outcry from local people.
In early August, 270 Rohingya rioted at the IDC in Phang Nga. Men tore off doors separating cells, demanding to be let outside to pray at the close of the Muslim holy month of Ramadan. Over the last three weeks of August, more than 300 Rohingya fled from five detention centers.
By this time, Mohamed, the 21-year-old refugee, could no longer walk, let alone escape. His leg muscles had wasted away from months in detention in a cell shared by 95 Rohingya men. Ismail and Ediris were shuttled between various IDCs, ending up in Nong Khai, a city on Thailand’s northern border with Laos.
Thailand saw its options rapidly dwindling, a senior government official said, speaking on condition of anonymity. It couldn’t protest to Myanmar’s government to improve the lives of Rohingya and stem the exodus, the official said. That could ruffle diplomatic feathers and even jeopardize the access of Thai companies hoping to invest in Myanmar, one of the world’s hottest frontier markets.
Nor could Thailand arrest, prosecute and jail the Rohingya for breaking Thai immigration law – there were simply too many of them. “There would be no room in our prison cells,” Police Maj-Gen Chatchawal said.
That growing problem gave birth to “option two” in October, a secret policy to deport the refugees back to Myanmar that led to Rohingyas being sold to human trafficking networks.
A hint of the policy shift came weeks earlier, on September 13, when Police Lt. Gen. Panu Kerdlarppol, chief of the Immigration Bureau, met with officials from other agencies on the resort island of Koh Samui to decide what to do with the Rohingya. Afterwards, Kerdlarppol announced that immigration authorities would take statements from the Rohingya “to arrange their deportation” and see if any want to go home. Arrangements would be made for those who did.
By early October, 2,058 Rohingya were held in 14 IDCs across Thailand, according to the Internal Security Operations Command, a national security agency run by the Thai military. A month later, that number stood at about 600, according to non-governmental organizations and Muslim aid workers. By the first week of December, it was 154, Thailand’s immigration department said.
Rohingya were fast disappearing from Thailand’s IDCs, and nobody knew where they were going.
“WE NOW BELONGED TO THEM”
Central to the policy was Ranong, a sparsely populated Thai province whose geography has always made it a smugglers’ paradise. Ranong shares a long, ill-policed land and sea border with Myanmar. Its coastline is blanketed in dense mangrove forest and dotted with small, often uninhabited islands.
The provincial capital, also called Ranong, was built on tin mining but now lives off fishingand tourism. Rust-streaked trawlers from Thailand and Burma ply the same waters as dive boats and yachts. So do wooden “long-tail” boats, named after their extended drive-shafts, which ferry Burmese migrant workers to the Myanmar port of Kawthaung, only a 30-minute voyage away.
By late October, hundreds of Rohingya were being packed onto immigration trucks and driven to Ranong for processing and deportation. Among them were Ismail and Ediris, who arrived in the port city after a grueling, standing room-only journey of 1,200 km (746 miles) from Nong Khai.
At Ranong’s IDC, they were photographed and told by Thai immigration officers they were being sent back to Myanmar. “They said no other countries were accepting Rohingya, and Myanmar had become peaceful,” said Ismail.
Then they were driven to a Ranong pier and herded onto four long-tail boats, each with a three-man crew of Thais and Burmese. Once at sea, the Rohingya asked the boat driver to help them. The Burmese-speaking driver shook his head and told the Rohingya they had been sold by Thai immigration officials for 11,000 baht ($350) each.
“They told us we now belonged to them,” said Ismail.
After about 30 minutes at sea, the boats stopped. It was early afternoon on October 23. The vessels waited until about 6 p.m., when a large fishing boat arrived. They were loaded aboard and sailed through the night until they reached a jungle island, separated from the mainland by a narrow river. It was about 4 a.m.
Ismail said he saw about 200 other Rohingya in that camp, mostly sleeping and guarded by men with guns. The guards shoved Ismail and the others into a muddy clearing. There was no water or food. He was told he must pay 60,000 Thai baht ($1,850). Did he have family who could send the money? If he did, he could go wherever he wanted, Ismail said he was told. “If you don’t, we’ll use this,” one guard said, showing an iron rod.
Ismail had some cash but not enough. “We need to escape,” he whispered to Ediris. After an hour at the camp, just before dawn, the two men made their move. A guard fired shots in the air as they ran through the jungle and waded through a river to reach the mainland. For the next 24 hours, they survived by drinking stream-water and eating the bark of banana trees. They emerged onto a rubber plantation, their feet lacerated from the bare-foot jungle trek, and met a Burmese man who promised to spirit them into Malaysia for 8,000 baht, or $250, each.
They agreed and were driven to a house in southern Thailand, where Reuters interviewed them hours before they were smuggled by pick-up across the Malaysian border.
THE JUNGLE CAMPS
Bozor Mohamed, the third young Rohingya from Buthedaung, said he was held for 10 days at a jungle camp in Padang Besar.
He, too, said he had been delivered by Thai officials to trafficking boats along the maritime border with Myanmar. Afterwards, in torrential rain and under cover of darkness, along with perhaps 200 other Rohingya, Mohamed said he was ferried back across the strait to Thailand, where a new ordeal began.
The men were taken on a two-day journey by van, motor-bike, and foot to a smuggler’s camp on the border with Malaysia. On the final hike, men with canes beat the young Rohingya and the others, many of them hobbled by months of detention. They stumbled and dragged themselves up steep forested hills.
Making the same trek was Mohamed Hassan, a fourth Rohingya to escape Thailand’s trafficking network. Hassan is a baby-faced 19-year-old from the Rakhine capital of Sittwe.
He said he arrived at the camp in September after an overnight journey in a pick-up truck, followed by a two-hour walk into the hills with dozens of other Rohingya. Their captors ordered them to carry supplies, he said. Already giddy with fatigue and hunger after eight days at sea, the 19-year-old shouldered a sack of rice. “If we stopped, the men beat us with sticks,” he said.
The camp was partially skirted by a barbed-wire fence, he said, and guarded by about 25 men with guns, knives and clubs. Hassan reckoned it held about 300 Rohingya. They slept on plastic sheets, unprotected from the sun and rain, and were allowed only one meal a day, of rice and dried fish. He said he was constantly hungry.
One night, two Rohingya men tried to escape. The guards tracked them down, bound their hands and dragged them back to camp. Then, the guards beat the two men with clubs, rods and lengths of rubber. “Everybody watched,” said Hassan. “We said nothing. Some people were crying.”
The beating lasted some 30 minutes, he said. Then a guard drew a small knife and slit the throat of one of the fugitives.
The prisoners were ordered to dispose of his corpse in the forest. The other victim was dumped in a stream. Afterwards, Hassan vomited with fear and exhaustion, but tried not to cry. “When I cried they beat me. I had already decided that I would die there.”
His only hope of release was his older brother, 42, a long-time resident of Thailand. Hassan said he had his brother’s telephone number with him, but at first his captors wouldn’t let him call it. (Traffickers are reluctant to deal with relatives in Thailand, in case they have contacts with the Thai authorities that could jeopardize operations.)
Eventually, Hassan reached his brother, who said he sold his motorbike to help raise the equivalent of about $3,000 to secure Hassan’s freedom, after 20 days in the camp.
Reporters were able to trace the location of three trafficking camps, based on the testimony of Rohingya who previously were held in them.
Three journalists traveled on motor-bikes and then hiked through rubber plantations and dense jungle to directly confirm the existence of a major camp near Baan Klong Tor.
Concealed by a blue tarpaulin tent, the Rohingya were split into groups of men and women. Some prayed. The encampment was patrolled by armed guards and protected by villagers and police. The reporters didn’t attempt to enter. Villagers who have visited the camp said the number of people held inside ranged from an estimated 500 to a thousand or more, depending on the number of people arriving, departing or escaping.
Interviews with about a dozen villagers also confirmed two other large camps: one less than a mile away, and another in Padang Besar, near the Malaysia border.
“THAT RED LINE IN THE SEA”
Major General Chatchawal of the Royal Thai Police in Bangkok admitted there was an unofficial policy to deport the Rohingya to Myanmar. He called this “a natural way or option two.” But he said the Rohingya went voluntarily.
“Some Rohingya in our IDCs can’t stand being in limbo, so they ask to return to where they came from,” said Chatchawal. “This means going back to Myanmar.” Rohingya at the IDCs, for instance, sign statements in the presence of a local Islamic leader, in which they agree they want to return to Myanmar.
These statements, however, were at times produced in the absence of a Rohingya language translator. When reporters visited the Sadao IDC for this story, the translator was a Muslim from Myanmar who spoke only Thai and Burmese, and thus unable to explain what the detainees were signing.
Chatchawal was also presented with recent testimony from Rohingya who said they weren’t taken to back to Myanmar. Instead, they were put in boats by Thai immigration officials, told they had been sold and taken under duress to Thailand’s camps. Reporters interviewed four Rohingya for this story who said they fell prey to trafficking with official complicity.
At the house where Ediris and Ismail were interviewed were two other survivors of the trafficking camps: Abdul Basser, 24, and Fir Mohamed, 28. They told similar stories. Both were arrested after arriving in Thailand on January 25, and held at the overcrowded Phang Nga IDC for about eight months. On October 17, the two men, along with dozens of other Rohingya, were driven overnight to Ranong.
“We were told we could go back to Myanmar,” said Mohamed.
That day, 48 Rohingya and five Buddhist Burmese were loaded into trucks and driven to a pier. The five Burmese were put on one boat; the Rohingya were put on another. After about a half hour at sea, the captain cut the engine. “We thought the engine had stalled or broke down,” said Basser. “The captain told us we could not go back to Myanmar, that we had been sold by the immigration and police,” he added.
Mohamed and Basser, too, escaped after being brought to an island near mainland Thailand.
Until now, the Thai government has denied official complicity in the smuggling or trafficking of Rohingya. But in a break with that position, Chatchawal said Thai officials might have received money previously in exchange for Rohingya, but not anymore. “In the past, and I stress in the past, there may have been cases of officials taking payments for handing over migrants to boats,” he said. “I am not ruling it out, but I don’t know of any specific cases recently.”
He said it was possible the Rohingya were intercepted by brokers and never made it to Myanmar. “Once they’ve crossed that border, that red line in the sea, they are Myanmar’s responsibility,” he said.
He also admitted the camps uncovered by Reuters exist in breach of Thai laws. He referred to them as “temporary shelters” for a people who ultimately want to reach Malaysia. The smugglers who run the camps “extort money from Rohingya” but police don’t accept bribes from them, he said.
As for the trafficking way stations in Padang Besar and Sadao, Chatchawal said: “I do believe there could be more camps like these. They could be hidden deep in the jungle.”
(Additional reporting by Jutaret Skulpichetrat and Amy Sawitta Lefevre in Bangkok, andStuart Grudgings in Kuala Lumpur.)