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Language barriers key problem in trafficking battle

A COMMUNICATION barrier appears to be one of the key issues faced by government officials trying to help Myanmar migrants working in Samut Sakhon's fishing industry, according to recent research.

"However, this issue is far too sensitive to address openly, as it can be perceived as an ineffective effort to counter [human] trafficking [and lead to a] negative image," Pattarin Wimolpitayarat, who presented the study at Mahidol University's Symposium on Human Rights Research in Asia last week, said.

The symposium was organised by the university's Institute of Human Rights and Peace Studies (IHRP) in cooperation with Chulalongkorn University's Master of Arts in International Development Studies (MAIDS) programme.

Pattarin, who conducted in-depth interviews with Labour Ministry officials and law enforcers, said that though these officials worked through a fluent interpreter, the issue of trust was very important.

If, for instance, some information is leaked to corrupt officials, then victims will end up not being rescued, she said.

In addition to language barriers, power play in the bureaucracy can also mean that some police officers are unable to take action despite knowing what was happening, because "they don't want to lose their jobs", Pattarin said.

Many officers choose to turn a blind eye in order to avoid internal conflict, she said, adding that some police officers and politicians were indeed believed to be involved in human trafficking in the province.

"Yet nobody takes ownership of the case and sees it through," she said.

Another related study presented at the same symposium revealed that many migrant workers in the fishing industry in Samut Sakhon province suffered mental health problems.

Researcher Ivone Rebelo said some of the workers from Myanmar worried so much about their health, their families and their future, that they often lost their appetite for food or began working too hard just so they can send what little they have back home. Other related conditions include insomnia, depression and even suicidal tendencies. Rebelo backed this up by citing the case of one female migrant worker who slashed her wrists in a suicide attempt but was saved in time.

The woman later told Rebelo: "I want to die after my parents passed away."

As for the children of the migrant workers, Rebelo said that when they were asked to draw, they almost always depicted fish, pots and factories.

"Really, their lives are just about the work that their [parents] do."




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