Authorities in Thailand have busted a human trafficking syndicate and rescued about half of 100 Burmese nationals smuggled in vehicles packed like sardines to the Thai capital Bangkok.
The victims, including toddlers, were at times heaped on each other in "layers" inside the crammed vehicles during their two-day journey from the Thai-Burmese border town of Mae Sot, one victim said Tuesday.
Thai authorities rescued 52 victims and arrested five Thai and three Burmese suspected traffickers on Monday, nearly a month after the perilous 400-kilometer (250-mile) journey, human rights groups said.
The victims had lived in a house belonging to one of the traffickers on reaching Bangkok.
The whereabouts of the 50 other victims is not known.
Burmese who cross over to Thailand illegally resort to Thai syndicates to be transported to Bangkok in their bid to secure jobs mostly in farms, brothels, and the shipping industry.
Most of those who rely on such transport fall prey to syndicates.
Map showing the route taken by the human traffickers.
In the latest incident, a couple who were victims of the scam alerted the authorities. The man was "sold" to a fishing boat owner while the wife was sent elsewhere by the syndicate.
"I didn't know I was sold to a fishing boat [owner]," said the man, identifying himself only as Phokye.
"Only when I arrived at the post, other Burmese there told me that I was sold and I should call my relatives to come with the money. So I did, and my relatives came [with authorities] to pay for my release, and [authorities] arrested them," he explained.
"One Thai trafficker escaped and the rest were arrested."
Phokye said that they had to change vehicles five times to avoid detection by the authorities and that among the Thai towns covered by the journey were Kamphaeng Phet and Muang Nakhon Sawan.
At times, he said, they had to "lie down on top each other in layers" and felt it "hard to breath."Police vehicle used?
One vehicle used to transport the human cargo looked like it belonged to the police or prison authorities, he said.
He said he was not sure if the vehicle was driven by police personnel, as they were driven at night.
A human rights lawyer from the Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma, a nongovernmental group, said he was helping police identify the other victims.
"They have 28 men and 24 women," the lawyer said. Most of them were rescued in the Thai province of Suphan Buri, 120 km (75 miles) north of Bangkok.
Smuggling of Burmese nationals into Thailand and within the country continues to thrive despite a bilateral agreement signed more than two years ago to combat human trafficking, especially of women and children.
Tens of thousands of migrant workers from impoverished Burma work in Thailand, both legally and illegally.Reported by Nayrein Kyaw for RFA's Burmese service. Translated by Khin May Zaw. Written in English by Parameswaran Ponnudurai.