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A female Burmese migrant worker's tale of Thai police impunity

5 March 2013 - TrustLaw.

BANGKOK (TrustLaw) - Nyo thought the three Thai men would kill her. She and her three colleagues had been imprisoned in a truck for two hours in a remote area in Mahachai, a satellite town just outside Bangkok. 

They weren’t allowed outside the truck, which has tinted windows and at the back, a sticker of a policeman with a helmet. The men demanded money, hit them repeatedly when they refuse to give more and took their jewelry. 

Now they were starting to molest the girls. 

“They touched the 17-year-old’s chest and put their hands inside the clothes of the married girl in front of her husband. They were also starting to undo the zip of my trousers,” recalled Nyo, which is not her real name. The driver of the truck also forced a small white pill down the throat of the young girl, she said. 

“Nobody would know if they’d raped, killed and dumped us by the side of the road,” she added.   

A couple of hours earlier, the four migrant workers from Myanmar thought little of it when they encountered the men as they were walking through the grounds of a monastery. It was August 2012 and they were heading to the market after finishing their factory shift at 6 pm. 

“Do you have passports?” asked a man in his thirties, wearing a police jacket but layman’s clothes and standing next to the truck with two others. He identified himself as a policemen. They smelled of alcohol. 

Having been in Thailand for a few years, the workers were used to random searches from Thai police whom rights groups accuse of preying on migrants as an easy source for bribes, and they weren’t worried. 

Unlike the estimated two million Burmese workers who are here illegally, they have have official paperwork. 

SEXUAL AND PHYSICAL VIOLENCE

Before they could produce the passports, however, the men shoved them inside the truck. Nyo ended up sitting next to the driver, the man in the police jacket. The other three were in the second row. There was a walkie-talkie and a pair of handcuffs. 

They were then taken to a quiet road where there was nothing but tall grass. The men took their passports and the sole mobile phone they had between them, and hit them when they refused to pay 5,000 baht ($167) each to be released. 

Then they found Nyo’s bank card. Nyo and her husband had been saving money to go home and see their three children in central Myanmar, so she didn’t want to let go of the 19,000 baht she had in the bank account.  

“He kept hitting my face so I relented. But it didn’t work the first time so he thought I gave him the wrong password and hit me again. By then my face had swollen and my eyes were red from injury,” Nyo said. 

When the molesting began, she decided they had to get away and convinced the men to give them the mobile phone back so Nyo could contact her husband, who spoke Thai and persuaded the man in the police jacket to go to another ATM. 

“It worked. They were so happy but I was in tears seeing them share my money,” she said. 

The men gave them 100 baht ($3.30) to go home. Still scared but relieved and exhausted, they finally reached home three hours after being taken away. 

SYSTEMATIC EXTORTION 

It could’ve turned out even worse, they later found out. 

A similar case of kidnapping occurred two days earlier, said Aye Mar Cho, officer-in-charge at the Mahachai office of Human Rights & Development Foundation which works with migrant workers. 

Three female Burmese migrant workers who completed their early morning shift were snatched by three men, taken to a bungalow and put in separate rooms.

“One girl managed to run away after asking her captor to give her some water, saying she was exhausted because he’d used a stun gun on her to force her to undress,” said Aye Mar Cho. 

“When the other two returned, they wouldn’t talk to aid workers or the police. They quit their jobs and went back home,” she said.

Andy Hall, a migration expert at Mahidol University in Bangkok, told TrustLaw: “There is systematic and prevalent extortion and abuse enacted out against migrant workers both by law enforcement officials and people claiming to be law enforcement officials, particularly in areas with high concentrations of non-Thai nationals.”

“It’s almost impossible for a powerless migrant worker to gain access to justice unless their case is heavily publicised and they are backed up by influential persons or law enforcement officials themselves,” he added. 

Nyo and her colleagues opened a criminal case but the others became scared and decided not to continue, she said.  

“They were worried that even if we won, we’d be killed.”

Nyo said she made contact with someone who showed her a picture of a man. She recognised him as the driver, the man with the police jacket. 

“But there was a woman there who spoke Burmese who said, “Be careful what you say, this is a policeman. Even if he's the right person, don't go around complaining just for 20,000 baht. If you want to stay in Thailand and make a living for a while, there are lots of people who work under him that could come and kill you.””

“So I got scared too,” she said. She hadn’t pursued the case since. 

Source: http://www.trust.org/trustlaw/news/a-female-burmese-migrant-workers-tale-of-thai-police-impunity

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