Thailand immigration authorities are reported to have taken into custody a Ugandan national said to be the ‘grandmother’ of human trafficking of Ugandan women into the Thailand sex industry, and a reported ‘under boss’ who was once a human trafficking victim herself.
Known only by her nickname ‘Sadaa’, the woman was reportedly apprehended in her Bangkok apartment after 23 Ugandan women were taken into custody during a sweep by police and immigration authorities along Sukhumvit Road in Bangkok on Monday night (May 7).
However, unlike other recent police and immigration dragnets where dozens of illegal aliens have been rounded up and paraded before the media, Thai authorities are remaining tight-lipped about this operation. Calls to the Office of the Prime Minister (OPM) and Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFA) inquiring about the fate of the women were not responded to. Similarly, messages left for Olan Viravan, Ugandan honorary consul in Thailand were not returned.
Photos of those caught up in the sweep, including the woman known as ‘Sadaa’, quickly made their way on to Ugandan social media, in addition to being circulated and commented on in a number of private WhatsApp messaging groups.
AEC News Today has been supplied with photos of some of the women allegedly caught up in the sweep, but has chosen not to exhibit them so as not to identify possible human trafficking victims.
According to a person with knowledge of the situation, but not auhorised to speak to the media, Thai authorities have so far classified 20 of the women as human trafficking victims, with three others suspected of being involved in their trafficking.
All 24 Ugandan women are reportedly being held at the Bangkok International Detention Center (IDC), with the human trafficking victims being kept segregated from their alleged traffickers.
Citing concerns over personal security another person with knowledge of the trafficking of Ugandan women into the Thai and Southeast Asian sex industry confirmed the arrests, and said the prize capture from the sweep is a middle-aged Ugandan woman only known by her alias of ‘Sadaa’, and an ‘under boss’ identified by the first name Rehemah.
Thailand’s First Ugandan Human Trafficker
Describing ‘Sadaa’ as “the John Gotti* of traffickers, the source told AEC News Today “she has never been arrested before, while numerous attempts to identify her have failed”.
Claiming that “most major female Ugandan human traffickers operating in Southeast Asia would have been originally trafficked themselves by her”, our source described ‘Sadaa’ as “the catch of the decade in relation to human trafficking and exploitation of Ugandans in Thailand”.
“She’s a serious operator. She was the pioneer. Everything to do with the trafficking of Ugandans (men and women) into Thailand for sexual exploitation stated with her”.
According to our informant Rehemah was caught up in the sweep of Sukhumvit Road. Last year she was allegedly detained when Thai immigration police raided a condominium complex in Bangkok’s Klong Tan district, but was released after claiming to have been just visiting friends at the time.
The December raid saw two suspected human traffickers, Belinda Namuli, who is alleged to have trafficked Ms Rehemah, and Moses Musoki a teacher in a Thailand school, among those detained at the time. The pair are currently awaiting trial on human trafficking charges.
Another of the leaders of the human trafficking gang, the boyfriend of Ms Namuli, managed to evade last December’s raid and is said to have fled back to Uganda where he is reportedly still actively sending Ugandan women to work in the Thailand sex industry.
According to our source, at the time of her detention last year Ms Rehemah was still paying off her ‘debt’ to Ms Namuli. After clearing her debt she is alleged to have started working for Ms Namuli’s boyfriend, collecting money from the trafficked women to repay their ‘debt’.
Recruited mostly from poor parts of Uganda, the women are lured into the Thai sex industry with promises of good paying jobs in 5-star hotels.
Provided with a wad of ‘show money’ and return airline tickets, most are said not to receive their passport (frequently newly issued) containing their visa for Thailand until they arrive at the airport in Uganda. They are told that if immigration officials question them on arrival in Thailand they are to say they coming to buy fashion items or such for selling in the market back at home.
Intimidation, Black Magic and Beatings
Rather than full time jobs in luxury hotels the women find themselves relieved of their passports and the ‘show money’ that they were given at home as soon as they arrive, and told they have a $7,500 debt to repay.
According to one person who works closely with human trafficking victims, the traffickers will often use ‘black magic’, threats against relatives back in Uganda, and physical beatings to force the women into working in the Thai sex industry to repay their ‘debt’. Starved of access to money the women are said to rely on the help of NGOs and charities if injured by customers or if they get into trouble with authorities.
Describing Bangkok as “the central hub of human trafficking in Southeast Asia, one informant said that the women are frequently moved between Thailand, Malaysia, Indonesia, Vietnam, and China, but always end up back in Thailand where they are forced to work in the sex industry in Bangkok, Pattaya, Koh Samui, and Phuket.
“It’s huge money with corrupt immigration officials in multiple countries facilitating the trafficking. Girls are replaced quickly and easily if caught by authorities, with new girls arriving every day.”
In recent months there as been an increase in raids by Thailand immigration police and the Royal Thai Police (RTP) for foreigners in breach of their visa conditions.
Raids have been conducted in Bangkok, Pattaya, and Phuket targeting English-language training schools and night spots popular with foreigners. Hundreds of people have been arrested. After each raid authorities typically hold a ‘show and tell’ media conference with those detained present.
What is causing concern among some who work with trafficked woman, particularly African women, is that there has been no announcement of the Ugandan women being detained, nor of the infamous ‘grandmother’ of human trafficking of Ugandan women also being apprehended, despite photos that could only have been taken by Thai immigration police or those who work closely with them making there way on to certain social media networks and groups within hours of the dragnet taking place.
Earlier this year Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-cha made the eradication of human trafficking a national agenda item, and Thai authorities have put considerable effort into detecting and prosecuting human traffickers, and in registering migrant workers to make it more difficult.
Calls to Thailand Immigration’s main phone number and its 1178 hotline went unanswered, as to were calls to the main Thailand Tourist Police number, while the Tourist Police 1155 hotline operator could not understand English.
Feature photo Sanook (file)
* John Gotti was one of the most powerful and dangerous crime bosses in the United States
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He has spent extensive periods of time working in Africa and throughout Southeast Asia.
He has covered major world events including the 1991 pillage riots in Zaire, the 1994 Rwanda genocide, the 1999 East Timor independence unrest, the 2004 Asian tsunami, and the 2009, 2010 and 2014 Bangkok political protests.
In 1995 he was a Walkley Award finalist, the highest awards in Australian journalism, for his coverage of the 1995 Zaire (now Democratic Republic of Congo) Ebola outbreak.
Prior to AEC News Today he was the deputy editor and Thailand and Greater Mekong Sub-region editor for The Establishment Post, predecessor of Asean Today.