Saturday, June 4, 2011

Most trafficking victims in Thailand ‘are Burmese’

Friday, 04 June 2010 21:51 Usa Pichai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Burmese workers rank the highest in numbers of human-trafficking victims in Thailand, while a labour shortage in the kingdom’s expanding fisheries industry is set to exacerbate the problem, rights groups say.

Sompong Sakaew, director of the Labour Rights Promotion Network, told Mizzima today that human trafficking in Thailand was ranked by the United States as “worrisome” and that the situation had worsened in recent years. The NGO is based in the fish-farming and salt-producing province of Samut Sakhon, on the Gulf of Thailand south of Bangkok.

“The biggest problem is in the fishery industries, where Burmese workers are deceived and forced to work the hardest and longest,” he said.

A recent estimate of the number of migrant workers in Thailand was set at more than three million, but the registered number is 700,000 workers, and they are mainly from Burma.

Sompong said business owners in Thailand still lacked the conscience to employ workers legally. Many wanted cheap labour and ignored the realities of the illicit trade that was supplying and exploiting these workers.

“Thailand is at risk of an international boycott of its seafood products if the human trafficking in this industry remains unresolved,” he warned.

According to the Mirror Foundation anti-human-trafficking centre in Bangkok, up to 138 cases were reported to the foundation last year – three times than in the previous year. The report was released at a press conference yesterday in Bangkok prior to National Anti-human Trafficking Day tomorrow.

Conditions in northern Thailand have also declined. Burmese boys from Mae Sot were deceived and forced to sell roti in Chiang Mai. Traffickers have also persuaded children from Burmese families to work in Thailand, and later forced them to sell flowers in the northern city, according to Duan Wongsa, manager of the Anti-Trafficking Co-ordination Unit Northern Thailand, in Chiang Mai.

“Recently… traffickers brought children from refugee camps along the border in Tak Province to inner provinces of Thailand,” she added. “Children would be brought and forced to work as domestic helpers for pitiful wages.”

Ekkalak Lumchomkae, head of the Mirror Foundation centre, told Mizzima the situation was in crisis, particularly in the fisheries sector. ranked Thailand third in the world in 2006 among its top 10 exporters and importers of fish and fishery products, but the country faces a severe labour shortage, with an estimated deficit of more than 10,000 workers. The shortage provides impetus for the traffickers to tries harder to search workers to serve businesses.

“From our fieldwork in some areas, there are politicians and officials behind the traffickers,” Ekkalak said. “Legal measures to control the fisheries sector are ineffective or local officials are negligent in applying the law.”

The situation in other sectors, such as prostitution, begging and flower-selling remained unchanged in 2008 and last year, the centre’s report said.

Ekkalak said the rate Burmese workers have to pay to middlemen to work in Thailand had increased, from the recent figure of around 20,000 baht (US$606), to 25,000 baht, nearly twice the amount demanded in the previous year. It takes most of them at least a year to repay the brokers.

He added that police have only been able to arrest minor Burmese traffickers after raids on suspected factories, failing to net the masterminds. “Local police were not brave enough to charge them [trafficking kingpins] under the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act 2008, but tend to lay charges for lesser offences.”

The centre blacklisted four seaside provinces with severe trafficking problems: Songkhla, Chonburi, Samut Sakhon and Samut Prakan.

A 14-year-old Muslim girl in Mae Sot, lured into working as a flower-seller in Bangkok, said she went unpaid during two years work for her employers.

“They told me that the money would be paid to my mother but she also never saw it,” the teen said. “They also hit me in the head when I could not bring in enough money.”

She later escaped from her taskmasters with the help of her neighbours and returned to Mae Sot – which along with the fishing town of Ranong on the southwest coast of Thailand near a marine border with Burma, and Chiang Rai in the far north – is a hotspot of activity for human traffickers.

Thai Minister of Social Development and Human Security Issara Somchai said at the opening of anti-human trafficking campaign in Bangkok that recent trafficking has become a more complex process.

Transnational networks put children and young people at high risk because their desire for better livelihoods leaves them open to exploitation, according to a report on Thailand’s Public Relations Department website on Friday.

Thailand’s first anti-trafficking legislation took effect in June, 2008, and was aimed at tackling the ever-increasing problem. The content specified provisions banning trafficking that involves the recruitment, transportation, transfer, harbouring or receipt of persons by threats or use of force for the purpose of exploitation.

Exploitation is defined as seeking benefit from prostitution, or production or distribution of pornographic materials. The law also bans other forms of sexual exploitation, slavery, forced begging, other forced labour or provision of services, coerced removal of organs for the purpose of trade, or any other similar practices resulting from forced or harmful work with extortion as the result, regardless of a person’s consent.

However, activists said the problem was not in the law, but in its application. Local police are reluctant to charge traffickers, who are often violent or armed, or employers in their jurisdictions, who usually have considerable social power. Police therefore seek far lesser penalties than the legislation prescribes, rights activists have said.

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