Thailand’s chief investigator into human trafficking, Major General Paween Pongsirin, is seeking asylum in Australia after resigning from a new appointment, Guardian Australia reports. He requested asylum just a few days after arriving in Melbourne on a tourist visa.
Pongsirin, 57, was deputy commissioner of Thailand’s Provincial Police Region 8. He had previously been appointed as chief investigator on human trafficking last May. Based on his investigations, hundreds of arrests have been made, launching a number of high-profile trials that might take as long as two years to prosecute. Several notable people from the southern provinces of Thailand, including a senior general and four police officers, were among those arrested.
Gen. Pongsirin repeatedy talked to the press about the risks he and his investigators faced as their probe implicated high-ranking police and military officers in the trafficking of Rohingya from Myanmar. The Rohingya, who are not recognized as citizens by the Myanmar government, are often smuggled for money across the border with Malaysia, allegedly assisted at sea by Thailand’s military. Many Rohingya were found dead by the dozens in mass graves last May along the Thailand-Malaysia border; Gen. Pongsirin was appointed head of the investigation soon after those mass graves were discovered.
Since the investigation began, several important witnesses have gone into hiding. Pongsirin claims his work was met by obstacles and intimidation, until he was finally transferred to another post along a border area where he believed he would be intentionally targeted by violence. He refused the new posting and resigned.
“Influential people involved in human trafficking,” he told Guardian Australia. “There are some bad police and bad military who do these kind of things. Unfortunately, those bad police and bad military are the ones that have power.”
“Human trafficking is a big network that involves lots of the military, politicians and police,” he added. “While I was supervising the cases I was warned all along.”
Thailand ranks at the lowest tier in the annual US State Department Trafficking in Persons Report for its failure to make significant efforts to fully comply with minimum international standards.