(New York) – The Thai government should immediately investigate the rape of a Rohingya woman, who was taken out of a government-run shelter in Phang Nga province by human traffickers, Human Rights Watch said today.
The woman, Narunisa, aged 25, told police that she was raped repeatedly between June 9 and 11 by Korlimula Ramahatu, a Rohingya man who lured her and her two children out of a shelter run by the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security in Phang Nga province.
“The rape of Narunisa demonstrates the vulnerability of Rohingya women to human traffickers – even when they are living in government-run shelters where they should be protected,” said Brad Adams, Asia director. “The government needs to swiftly and impartially investigate the rape case, and determine why traffickers were able to get access to Rohingya women in this shelter, and prosecute all those who aided the crime.”
According to Narunisa, human traffickers – both Rohingya and Thai – were able to gain access to the shelter in Phang Nga province soon after a group of about 70 Rohingya women and children arrived there in January. Korlimula, who was identified to Human Rights Watch as working for a Rohingya-Thai human trafficking gang, told Narunisa that he would reunite her with her husband in Malaysia for a fee of 50,000 baht (approximately US$1600).
On May 27, Korlimula helped Narunisa and her two children to escape from the shelter and took her to meet with other associates. Narunisa and her children were put on a pickup truck driven by a man, whom she later learned is a police officer at Khao Lak police station in Phang Nga province. The three of them were taken to six hideouts in the province, and in each case locked up against their will. At the final hideout on Koh Yipoon Island in Phang Nga province’s Kuraburi district, Korlimula repeatedly assaulted and raped Narunisa at knifepoint over the course of three days, from June 9 to 11. After that, Narunisa and her children were dumped on the street in Kuraburi district and the three of them made their way back to the shelter on June 18. Narunisa reported the rape case at Kuraburi district police station on June 18, and then filed a formal complaint against Korlimula on June 21.
One day after Narunisa filed a complaint against the man who raped her and the case threatened to reveal the extent of human trafficking and smuggling in Phang Nga province, a Thai man showed up at the gate of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security’s shelter and made threats on the life of Narunisa and the shelter’s director. According to the shelter staff, this man said he had killed several Rohingya already. “Killing more women would be no problem,” he told them. The threat has since been reported to the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, as well as the governor and police commissioner of Phang Nga province. But as of June 27, no police protection has been assigned to the shelter. Also there has been no action taken against the police officer who was allegedly working with the trafficking gang involved in Narunisa’s case.
“It’s unacceptable that those involved in trafficking and abusing of Rohingya operate with impunity, while the victims are left with little or no protection from Thai authorities,” Adams said.
More than 1,700 Rohingya have been in the custody of Thai authorities since January 2013. Under immense international pressure, the government of Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra agreed in January 2013 to let these Rohingya stay in Thailand temporarily, until they can be safely repatriated to their places of origin or resettled in third countries. Calling them “illegal immigrants,” Thai authorities have put Rohingya men in overcrowded immigration detention facilities across the country. Women and children have been sent to shelters operated by the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security. As a result, in a number of cases, families have been split up.
The government does not permit the office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to properly conduct refugee status determination screening of these Rohingya.
“Each year, tens of thousands of Rohingya set sail to flee persecution by the Burmese government and dire poverty,” Adams said. “Their plight has worsened at the hands of traffickers and corrupt Thai officials. It is time for the United Nations and the international community to take action.”