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Thailand has been preparing to send off a group of Rohingya Muslims who were victims of human trafficking to various countries, including the United States.
On Thursday, the day of the Muslim Eid al-Adha festival, Thailand’s Social Development and Human Security Minister Adul Saengsingkaew met a group of trafficked Rohingya Muslims at a shelter for men in Pathum Thani Province to the north of Bangkok.
There were a total of 29 Rohingya Muslims present at the shelter, 13 of whom will be sent to the United States, Adul said.
“These people here today are the ones that have gone through all the clearance. There are about 190 who are victims of human trafficking, while 135 people are waiting to be deported [to their country of origin],” Adul told reporters.
Adul said his ministry had received a little over 300 people from the Immigration Bureau. They were put into different shelters across the country, including the southern provinces of Surat and Sonkhla and northern Chiang Rai province.
The ministerial visit was also arranged to give moral support to the group of men before their send off, officials said.
“We have been preparing them in terms of their livelihoods, being organised, taking care of themselves, socialising, giving language classes, exercising, and looking after their health. We’ve prepared them for everything,” added Pongsak Chuchuenklin, the director of a shelter for men, known as the Welfare Protection Center for Victims of Human Trafficking.
Although some of the men have managed to pass through U.S. immigration clearance, which includes proving their identification, some expressed concern about the future.
“Although I can go to America, I’m not quite happy yet. But once I am there and can earn money, on that day, I will be happy,” said Muhammad Ali, a 21-year-old Rohingya Muslim.
But Ali, who decided to leave his hometown Sittwe, Burma, and board a ship about a year and a half ago, was determined to do his best once reaching the U.S.
“If I get to go to America, I am willing to do whatever they want me to,” he told reporters.
Southeast Asia has been grappling with a humanitarian crisis involving thousands of people trafficked from Burma and Bangladesh into neighbouring countries.
Many of the more than 4,000 migrants who have landed in Indonesia, Malaysia, Thailand and Burma since the Thai government launched a crackdown on people-smuggling gangs are Rohingya who say they are escaping persecution.
Most of Burma’s 1.1 million Rohingya, an ethnic minority living in western Burma, are stateless and live in apartheid-like conditions.
Almost 140,000 were displaced in deadly clashes with Buddhists in Arakan State in 2012. They are denied citizenship and have long complained of state-sanctioned discrimination.