BANGKOK, May 16, 2015:
A lack of Rohingya translators, in particular, puts traumatised women and children at risk of falling back into the hands of traffickers.
“These women and children have been through a terrible ordeal, from the dangerous and often exploitative journey, to family separation upon arrival,” Vivian Tan, spokeswoman for the UN refugee agency UNHCR said by email.
“Husbands, wives and children have been separated during the journey… It can add to the trauma not knowing what happened to their loved ones, and not knowing what the future holds.”
Those working in the shelters said they lack food, translators and psychologists to support the victims.
She said her staff struggled to convey simple, but crucial information such as how to flush toilets and prevent them from getting clogged.
Shelters often rely on Rohingya people in the area who can speak Thai, “with the understanding they’ll help, but in reality, they don’t know who these people are,” said Amy Smith, an executive director of Fortify Rights, a watchdog group tracking the plight of the Rohingya.
Instead of helping, these translators may lure women back into trafficking rings with the promise of reuniting them with their husbands.
“The Thai staff will be told, ‘This woman is okay, she’s going to the market, we’ll help her shop,’ and the next thing you know they’re in the hands of the traffickers,” Smith said.
Since the discovery of mass graves at abandoned trafficking camps, Southeast Asian governments have hardened their stance on Rohingya Muslims.
This week, Thai, Malaysian and Indonesian authorities turned away boatloads of migrants, leaving them stranded at sea.
But thousands have already made it to shore.
Dararat’s shelter has assisted more than 100 Rohingya over the past two years and is currently housing 21. Staff from the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) and UNHCR provide assistance, and 13 from the shelter have been resettled in the United States.
UNHCR supports shelters through visits from teams that include “roving interpreters”. It also provides counselling and submits the cases of the most vulnerable refugees to resettlement countries for consideration.
“They keep coming in. The immigration police look to shelters as the appropriate place for women and children,” said Dararat.
“About 20 more people are coming in today.”