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A Round-Up of Latest News
February 2, 2023

It’s a new year, but the compounded effects of ongoing challenges continue to take their toll on poorer households in the region where we work. Rising costs of living, low wages, and high debt are accelerated even further by an outbreak of swine flu that has increased the cost of pork by 40%, which pushes up the price of other meat products as well. According to Al Jazeera news, “Thais are being battered by inflation. That is leaving poorer households short of money after two years of pandemic-crunched incomes, small businesses leaking profit….” People are seeing rising prices everywhere: eggs, cooking oil, gas, coconut milk, and even wonton wrappers. Many food sellers are coping by giving smaller portions rather than raising costs for their customers.

That’s worrisome news for us at The Freedom Story as we work to support the most vulnerable populations, who will have to face further cuts in the amount of food they can purchase when they’re already feeling the pinch in almost every direction. 

In Other News…

According to The Daily Star, 26 Rohingyas were rescued and five brokers were arrested in Cox’s Bazar, a fishing port and tourism center in southeastern Bangladesh. The Rohingyas, including women and children, were being trafficked to Malaysia and Thailand. They were sent back to their camps after rescue. 

Facing continued persecution in Myanmar, Rohingya refugees flee to Bangladesh and elsewhere, where they continue to face risks of trafficking and other dangers. Thousands attempt dangerous sea crossings, and hundreds have died in the process last year alone. 2022 was the deadliest year, according to the UN’s refugee agency, UNCHR. As quoted in VOA News:

“UNHCR spokeswoman Shabia Mantoo said the dramatic increase in the number of people willing to risk their lives smacks of despair among a population that sees no way out of its misery.

‘We are hearing reports, as we mentioned, from Rohingya about this growing sense of desperation and this anxiety about the future. And really no hope for security, for protection,” Mantoo said. “Some of them are willing to reunite with family members. Others, their vulnerabilities are being exploited by traffickers or smugglers luring them with both promises and false hope.'”

In Some Promising News…

Hmong women are taking to TikTok to spread awareness about marital exploitation and forced labor. According to Global Voices, these ethnic minority women are pushed into arranged marriages, and they’ve begun to share accounts of the slavery-like conditions they face at the hands of their husbands’ families, the unpaid labor they perform, and the freedoms they are denied. Legal advocates argue that these arrangements may violate Thailand’s anti-human trafficking laws, which can subject offenders to prison time, fines, and even the death penalty in cases where victims have died. They may also be subject to charges of domestic violence.

On the U.S. side, the last of nearly 40 defendants have pled guilty to charges of conspiracy in a trafficking ring in Minnesota. They were accused of transporting hundreds of women from Bangkok to cities across the U.S., luring them with promises of a better life. The women were trapped in debt bondage and expected to pay their way out by performing commercial sex acts, under threat of harm to their families if they did not comply.

Finally, in Finland, where 80-90% of berries sold to businesses are picked by foreign workers, there’s a move to protect the Thai workers that come to pick berries. A pending legislative change seeks to classify these seasonal workers as employees of the berry companies, as opposed to “self-employed light entrepreneurs.” It is hoped that this move would improve the status of these workers, leading to better pay and treatment in an industry that has already faced a human trafficking scandal involving a high-ranking official. The berry firms, however, argue that the added bureaucracy and costs would raise barriers for Thai workers and that the workers themselves do not want employment contracts. (Our notes: the article does not make clear whether the firms are simply passing on the complications and the costs to the workers, nor does it explain whether the Thai workers receive adequate explanations of their choices and the implications of these employment contracts or whether the policy change itself has involved listening to Thai workers’ concerns.) According to a Finnish news source, Thailand’s ambassador to Finland, however, has stated that employment contracts would be a good way to prevent exploitation.