The discovery on the Thai border of around 50 bodies, thought to be members of the marginalised Rohingya community, underlines the brutal nature of the trade in humans.
In a troubled world, people do extraordinary things for a better life. Fleeing poverty or persecution – or perhaps both – tens of thousands have made their way to the north African coast this year, purchasing seats on rickety boats that they hope will take them to the European mainland. Many did not reach their intended destination however – 1,200 lost their lives over the course of the last month, a staggering increase in the number of fatalities when compared with the previous year.
But this precarious highway is only one of the planet’s major migration corridors. The south east Asian nation of Thailand sits astride another, which runs from countries like Afghanistan, Bangladesh and Burma in the north to the more prosperous nations of Malaysia and Australia in the south. Some are moved by ship, others by road and jungle track, but this route is also marked with blood and broken bodies.
Last night, a small team of Thai policemen were led to an encampment in the jungle near a town called Padang Baser on the Thai-Malaysia border. The human traffickers and smugglers who ran this place – a major staging post on the route south – appeared to have made a rapid departure, taking their victims with them. However, there were bits of food and drink cans on the ground, and a man of “middle eastern” appearance who was too sick to move. The police also found a dead body that had not been buried.
Still, officers were about to make a far more gruesome discovery. About 300 metres from the main camp, the police team found approximately 50 graves. Forensics personnel arrived on site this morning and have currently removed 32 bodies – the vast majority thought to be members of a marginalised Muslim group in Burma called the Rohingya.
Channel 4 News understands that Thai border police were led to this remote spot by a well-known trafficker called “Anwar”, who was arrested two days ago in the town of Songklar. Police think the criminal gang who ran the camp left two days ago and have moved across the border into Malaysia. “It will be difficult to trace them now,” said Police-General Somyot Pumpunmuang.
The discovery which police today described as “shocking” underlines the brutal nature of the trade in human beings. Campaigners say hundreds of people die along this route every year, in overcrowded boats, isolated camps and squalid detention centres.