Migrants smuggled from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar ‘in shadow of criminal networks’ that target young people and women
CHILDREN ARE being trafficked to Thailand from neighbouring countries for underage labour, sexual exploitation and forced begging, a new report revealed yesterday.
The “Trafficking in people from Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar to Thailand” is the first joint report of its kind to explore human trafficking in the region as available information suggests many migrants from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar have ended up as victims in the Kingdom.
The report says: “The irregular status of migrants from Cambodia, Laos, and Myanmar in Thailand, the migrants’ fear of deportation, the lack of knowledge of their rights and of the laws applicable to them, language barriers and limited access to authorities and to people outside their workplace make irregular migrants from these countries particularly vulnerable to deception, coercion, violence, exploitation and trafficking.”
The report confirmed the most sinister of circumstances, according to Thailand Institute of Justice’s (TIJ) executive director Prof Kittipong Kittiyarak.
“We can learn from this report that trafficking in persons and the smuggling of migrants is mainly in the shadow of the criminal networks that target the most vulnerable, often our young people and women,” he said yesterday.
Conducted jointly by the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) and the TIJ, the report seeks to amass evidence of human trafficking and enhance the capacity of relevant countries to generate, access and use the information to combat the problem.
Victims often endure unspeakable hardship. Physical violence, sexual abuse, harassment, threats and coercion are common experiences for many.
Despite the harsh realities, a huge number of people from Cambodia, Lao and Myanmar continue to move to Thailand in the hope of better life opportunities and income.
Poor economic backgrounds, a lack of employment opportunities, natural disasters and poor harvests in their homelands have driven many Laotians to migrate here.
Migrants from Myanmar have struggled with difficult economic circumstances, ethnic tensions or statelessness, while some have come in the hope of earning higher incomes.
Cambodian migrants are usually motivated by poor economic circumstances and a lack of employment opportunities.
Most labour migration to Thailand occurs outside formal channels because many migrants still associate avenues for legal migration and work with high costs and significant levels of bureaucracy. Alternative channels, often via shady “immigration agents”, are seen as inexpensive, fast and readily available.
Deanna Davy, Senior Research Consultant (Trafficking in Person/Migrant Smuggling), UNODC, Regional Office for Southeast Asia and the Pacific, said that the Prey Veng-Battambang-Poi Pet-Aranyaprathet route was one of the most common used for migrating Cambodians.
“Smuggling fees are about $100, with smugglers reaping about $10 to 30 in profits,” Davy said, adding that smugglers also paid bribes along the way.
From Laos, one of the widely used smuggling routes is Vientiane to Nong Khai, while from Myanmar, migrants usually arrive via several border provinces, including Kanchanaburi and Mae Hong Son. One common route is Kawthaung to Ranong.
Davy said corrupt officials had facilitated irregular migration and trafficking.
UNODC’s Regional Representative, Jeremy Douglas, stressed the need for a more complete picture of the current trafficking situation in the target countries.
“We now understand the situation better and have identified some challenges and opportunities for enforcement and justice authorities in the countries,” he said. “Importantly, the study provides a platform for us to expand our cooperation and assistance.
“We are also looking to see if the findings might be helpful across the Mekong, beyond the four countries that participated.”
Kittipong believes the problem is best addressed through prevention.
“This involves improving school attendance, ensuring that both boys and girls are given fair, equal and free access to education. Such measures need to be complemented by other initiatives in order to foster skills training and improve equal employment opportunities for men and women so that they have access to decent work and the pursuit of a legitimate career,” he said.
He believes social inequality, poverty and a lack of access to education and limited legitimate economic opportunities remain the driving forces that push individuals to break the law and at the same time make them more vulnerable to victimisation.
Kittipong is calling for a centre to be established that specifically takes care of victims so that they have the courage to speak up and get help.
“At the same time, we must prepare a proper, convenient and legal migration process for migrants,” he said. “All countries involved must not look at migrant workers as problems. These migrants can be of benefit for Thailand and their homeland.”