Arriving in Australia last week on a tourist visa, Major General Paween Pongsirin is seeking asylum in the country after claims that his life is in danger in Thailand.
“There must be some place, some safe place for me. I came here because Australia is a safe place,” he told the Australia Broadcasting Corporation tonight.
Appointed by the Thai government to address the thorny issue of human trafficking in Thailand for which the country has twice been blacklisted in a U.S. report, Major General Pangsirin and his team uncovered up to 30 graves on the border of Thailand with Malaysia and issued 153 arrest warrants in relation with the case.
This move was seen by the United States as well as non-governmental organisations as a willingness on the part of the Thai government to address the issue.
Many of those trafficked into Thailand are from minority ethnic groups like the Rohingya Muslims who fled neighbouring countries such as Myanmar or Bangladesh. Once in Thailand, they are sent to work as slaves in the fishing and seafood industry.
Some are trafficked into prostitution. However, those on whom this investigation centred were imprisoned in makeshift camps, and their families were coerced into paying ransoms. Some of the survivors have complained of being raped or beaten.
According to general Paween, “a person who can detain hundreds of people without being arrested for so many years cannot be an ordinary citizen.” Indeed, in November, 88 people, among whom a senior military general appeared in court for an hearing.
But, the investigation was put to an end just five months after it began and the general re-posted to the south of Thailand. It killed him to be sent there, especially as he was due to be a key witness at the trials.
For Phil Robertson, the deputy director of the Asia division of Human Rights Watch, the general is “an honest, no nonsense and experienced investigator.”
He went on to add that the “investigation got too close to some powerful people.”
It is because of these powerful people that the general resigned from his job and fled to Australia. In a statement issued by the Thai National police chief Jakthip Chaijinda, Major General Paween could have asked for protection.
For the man who tonight does not know how his asylum demand will be looked upon by the Australian government, it is ironic that in seeking justice for people seeking asylum, it is him who is now in need of asylum.