In response to last year’s Trafficking in Persons Report, when Thailand was downgraded to the Tier 2 Watch List, the agenda has focused on intensifying efforts to move up towards Tier 1. The report offered recommendations to improve the country’s standing by: increasing law enforcement’s capacity to investigate and prosecute, investing in multi-disciplinary training, increasing understanding of the linkages between forced labor and trafficking, facilitating government collaboration, and increasing trauma-informed care and treatment of survivors at every step of the way through the legal and recovery process. It is a policy priority to try to meet these recommendations.
The good news is that State Department’s report has also picked up on Thailand’s efforts in prevention. Today we’d like to focus on how we’re working with the government to support prevention efforts.
On Child Safe & Friendly Tourism Policy Priorities
We’ve been continuing our work with regional government agencies on Child Safe and Friendly tourism. This involves working with other civil society organizations, government agencies, and hotel operators to develop standards, policies, and practices that would be implemented in hotels to help identify potential trafficking situations and respond appropriately. It involves training and certification processes, for example, to identify and promote hotels and tourist accommodations that are committed to being child-safe and have a procedure to respond to children at risk of human trafficking coming to the hotel. We work jointly with stakeholders to promote this agenda nationally. We’re contributing to creating a national committee to use results from these pilot projects to expand nationwide.
On Targeting Youth Who’ve Been Trafficked to Cambodia
There has been a noticeable increase in Thai youths, from age 18 to 30, who’ve been trafficked to Cambodia. There was a recent case where over 30 Thai people, believing they were responding to a job offer to work in a call center, were trafficked to Cambodia, their passports and identification were confiscated, and they were locked up without food or water for days unless they agreed to pay $3,000 to be released. They’ve since been rescued by Cambodian police at the request of Thai government agencies and repatriated to Thailand. When we receive news of things like this happening, we share it with our local communities to help raise awareness that it is happening and to warn people against risky ventures. We’ve also been working with national authorities to set up a system to facilitate rescue, rehabilitation, and prevention.
Although cross-border collaboration can be hampered by various challenges, the majority of people who report themselves or family members as trafficked and stuck in Cambodia are able to be rescued through bilateral collaboration between Thailand and Cambodia. The government has especially been cracking down on the agents on the Thai side that advertise through Facebook and other social media apps. They have a special investigations division to lead those cases.
On The Shift From Brothels To Private Parties
Due to the COVID pandemic, a portion of trafficking that had been happening in red-light districts, bars, and clubs was shut down. Unfortunately, it moved instead to private parties, which are much harder to identify, report, or investigate. Traffickers approach young boys and girls through social media and lure them to these parties. Or, we’ve seen the case of children getting involved in online gambling and generating debts that then put them at risk of being blackmailed. We’ve been discussing this phenomenon with other partners and government agencies to create awareness-raising campaigns and online education so children become more aware of the risks when they use those apps.
On the Post-COVID Impact on Human Trafficking
In government circles, there has been speculation about what kind of impact we will see post-COVID. As the country has re-opened, we see movements of people from Myanmar and Laos into Thailand, and from Thailand into Myanmar and Laos, as well as Cambodia. The anticipation is that this is likely to increase when the borders are fully open.
Finally, the impact of COVID is likely to be compounded by knock-on effects from Russia’s military action in Ukraine and the sanctions imposed in response. Early predictions from economists suggest that countries in Asia such as India, Thailand, and the Philippines will be among the most affected in the region with rises in oil and food prices. Combined with higher inflation, the impact may fall disproportionately upon households with the lowest incomes. This may again increase people’s desperation to find money to survive, and thus increase their susceptibility to risky offers.
In our view, prevention efforts are becoming even more necessary than ever as we continue to navigate through uncertain and turbulent times.