By Southeast Asia correspondent Zoe Daniel
Updated Thu Jun 13, 2013 8:32pm AEST
Now ABC has tracked down Rohingya Muslims in Malaysia who claim they were intercepted, brutally beaten and then sold to traffickers by the Thai military.
Rohingya refugee Zafar Ahmad’s story is frighteningly familiar.
He fled religious violence in Western Myanmar, but on the journey to Malaysia the boat he was on was intercepted by the Thai navy.
“The navy arrested us and took us to an island, they took us into a forest, then they took our clothes so we had only underwear… They beat us and asked us why we came to this country,” he said.
“A few days later another boat arrived and the people on it joined us.”
Mr Ahmad says the two boats had their engines removed, and under the Thai navy’s “push back” policy, more than 200 passengers were then put back on board, towed out to sea and abandoned.
One seemingly made it all the way to Sri Lanka. It made headlines when it landed because 96 people died on the way due to lack of food and water.
By the time Mr Ahmad’s boat made it back to Thai shores, towed in by a fisherman, 12 people had died. Those left were then sold by villagers.
“Thai Muslims gave us food while we were in the jungle, but after that they sold us,” he said.
Allegations Thai navy shot dead asylum seekers
Tens of thousands have been displaced by fighting between Buddhists and Muslims in Myanmar’s Rakhine state and many have made for Malaysia, passing Thailand en route.
Earlier this year the ABC revealed allegations that shots were fired and at least two asylum seekers were killed after a boatload of Rohingya was stopped by the Thai navy off Phuket.
The navy denied shooting people who had jumped into the water to swim to shore, along with further allegations that the navy had sold captured Rohingya to human traffickers.
But now the ABC has tracked down more Rohingya men who make similar trafficking claims.
“The navy beat me the whole night. Then I was handed over to some Thai people in the morning. I was beaten a lot,” Rohingya man Nurul Amin said.
“I was then transferred again to traffickers and they beat me almost 12 times.”
Another man, An Sarrulla, gave a similar account.
“The navy allowed us to the shore, they spoke Thai, I did not understand. We asked for food, I don’t not know if they understood but they beat us instead,” he said.
Mr Amin and Mr Sarrulla are new arrivals to Malaysia.
If true, their claims confirm that trafficking involving the Thai navy continues, despite repeated denials by Thai authorities.
Back in March, Thai prime minister Yingluck Shinawatra promised an investigation into the treatment of Rohingya by the Thai navy.
To the ABC’s knowledge, no detailed investigation has ever taken place.