Thailand has been quick to respond to the US State Department’s latest Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP), saying unequivocally that it is disappointed with the ranking. The report, which was released on July 1, downgraded Thailand to the Tier 2 Watch List from Tier 2 the previous year.
This year’s report found the Thai government did not demonstrate overall increasing efforts to address trafficking compared to the previous year, nor has it effectively addressed the forced labor of migrant workers. The Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs issued a statement pointing out that that the TIP report was drawn up unilaterally from the US perspective, which “by no means represents any international standard.” It must be reiterated here that the US government’s evaluation is unfair given the considerable progress made over the years. It was not 100 percent perfect to be sure but continued progress must be recognized, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Since 2014, Thailand has worked hard to improve the situation regarding human trafficking. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha made combating human trafficking a national priority after taking over the country’s leadership. There have been criticisms of his focus on this issue, given the country’s many socioeconomic problems. The downgrade was a big letdown, coming as it did amid pressing socioeconomic issues, including the surge of infections and the vaccination crisis.
For the past seven years, Thailand has been making steady progress in reducing the number of humans trafficked and on improving regulations. The government has taken various measures to improve standards in protecting and preventing Thai citizens and other nationals, including migrant workers, from the scourge of human trafficking rings.
Tangible progress has been achieved in three areas as stated clearly by the Thai concerned authorities. First of all, the number of cases prosecuted has increased, as the time for the prosecution process has been considerably shortened. Most of the submitted cases are adjudicated by the court within one year. This is a far cry from past practices, when it would often take a few years to prosecute wrongdoers.
Secondly, in the area of protection, the government has continued to use the so-called victim-centered and trauma-informed care approaches, which have proved to be more effective. As such, representatives of civil society organizations have been able to participate by forming active partnerships with the government to provide assistance to victims in terms of shelter and services. Obviously, this area could be improved if more funding were made available.
Thirdly, the government has been able to give broad-based protection to migrant workers from neighboring countries including Laos, Cambodia, Vietnam and Myanmar. Because of the COVID-19 pandemic, the government has adopted a series of lenient measures to enable these migrant workers to keep their jobs and stay in Thailand. In the case of Myanmar’s workers, which comprise the bulk of an estimated 6 million migrant workers in Thailand, nearly 250,000 of them have been registered and are now receiving protection and welfare benefits.
Regarding the fishing industry, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, new laws have been enacted to raise the standard of living and facilities on fishing boats as well as facilitate the Seabook registration process for migrant fishery workers. These measures have been recognized as tangible progress by the European Community.
In addition, capacity-building and training programs are held regularly through various channels to enhance the efficiency of law enforcement officers and promote awareness among vulnerable groups about the risks of human trafficking and possible exploitation in different forms.
The US downgrading of Thailand’s efforts is being negatively viewed by the Thai authorities, who believe it is politically motivated. Other countries that have ignored the US assessment and recommendations have not been reprimanded. In comparison with other Asian countries mentioned by the TIP report as having an adequate protection and prosecution regime, Thailand has done better.
In the coming days, Thailand must do more as there are still areas that concerned agencies need to improve. They must not lower their guard, for the good of all peoples living in this country.
Kavi Chongkittavorn is a veteran journalist on regional affairs.
This article first appeared in Thai PBS World.
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