THAI police are on the hunt for suspected human smugglers who abandoned 35 migrants from Burma (Myanmar) in a forest in southern Thailand.
According to AFP, police say the 28 men and seven women were discovered in the Nakorn Si Thammarat province and were on their way to Malaysia without any identification on them. They had been promised work on rubber and palm plantations.
“Their driver told them to wait while he went to go buy meals, but then he fled,” provincial police commander Wancha Akepornpich told AFP.
He added that the migrants were not Rohingya.
This comes after Thai authorities detained 27 men from Myanmar in March who were allegedly trying to enter Malaysia.
The spot the latest group of migrants were deserted at is a key stop on a regional trafficking route after Thai authorities began clamping down on trafficking gangs who used the Bay of Bengal to ferry thousands of Myanmar refugees and migrants by boat.
Thailand’s military government has vowed a “zero tolerance” policy toward human trafficking and their efforts last year led to the country being upgraded a notch to the Tier 2 “Watch List” in the annual U.S. Trafficking in Persons report.
Meanwhile, activists believe the discovery of the abandoned migrants indicates that smuggling routes are still thriving in Thailand and that it is unlikely to be a one-off thing.
“We know from recent activity that the smuggling routes are far from quiet, despite what authorities might have us believe about the success of their trafficking crackdown,” said one activist who declined to be named because he feared repercussions told Reuters.
Tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine State since 2012, when hundreds of ethnic Rakhine Buddhists were killed in violent clashes and about 140,000 became homeless.
An estimated 75,000 Rohingya fled across the border to Bangladesh during a recent crackdown by Myanmar security forces in response to militant attacks on border posts.