Thailand Expects To Stay at Bottom of Next TIP Report: Official

By Pimuk Rakkanam and Uayporn Satitpanyapan
150623-TH-police-620.jpg Thai National Police Chief Somyos Poompanmuang (left) announces the handover of human-trafficking case files to the attorney general’s office in Bangkok, June 23, 2015.

The U.S. State Department will soon release its annual Trafficking in Persons Report (TIP) for 2015, but a Thai official said Tuesday that Thailand wasn’t expecting a promotion from the bottommost Tier 3 rank, despite its recent crackdown on people-smuggling.

“We don’t expect to be lifted off Tier 3 because when we cracked down on trafficking, the U.S. had almost completed compilation of its report,” Panithan Wattanayakorn, an advisor to the Thai Ministry of Defense, told BenarNews.

“The prime minister and the deputy prime minister said we would try to do our best under limited time. We tackle the issue by restructuring the way we handle trafficking issue. We placed this issue as a high priority,” he added.

The TIP gauges how each country performs in a given year in combating human trafficking on its territory. The annual report covers the period from April 1 to March 31 of the following year.

Thailand launched a crackdown on human trafficking in early May, after Thai authorities discovered the bodies of 32 suspected illegal migrants at abandoned people-smuggling camps in Padang Besar, a sub-district in southern Songkhla province.

Case closed

On Tuesday, National Police officials announced they were closing out investigations into human trafficking rings that followed the macabre discovery on its southern border. They also handed the case files over to the attorney-general’s office for judicial proceedings against more than one hundred suspects named in the case.

“With regards to the cases, a total of 119 arrest warrants have been issued. Fifty-six are in custody, while 63 managed to escape,” Deputy Police Chief Gen. Ek Angsananond told a news conference in Bangkok.

“On June 22 alone, arrest warrants were issued for 30 individuals suspected of having connections with the networks, including both Thai and foreign nationals. Their networks are in Songkhla, Satun and Ranong [provinces],” he added.

The 56 suspects in custody include a three-star army general, a former chief executive of Satun province, as well as a mayor and deputy mayor in Songkhla.

Tier 3 implications

The State Department says it assigns a Tier 3 ranking to countries whose governments do not fully comply with minimum standards spelled out in the Trafficking Victims Protection Act (TVPA), a U.S. law, and “are not making significant efforts to do so.”

Tier 3 countries may be hit with “certain restrictions on bilateral assistance, whereby the U.S. government may withhold or withdraw non-humanitarian, non-trade related foreign assistance,” according to last year’s TIP report.

“In addition, certain countries on Tier 3 may not receive funding for government employees’ participation in educational and cultural exchange programs,” it noted.

Apart from TIP, Thailand could face sanctions from the European Union over how it has dealt with human trafficking.

The country’s seafood industry employs thousands of migrant workers, and a recent investigation by the Associated Press exposed slave-like labor conditions in the sector. Thailand was hit hard by the recent issuance of an EU “yellow card” for failing to regulate its fishing industry in a sustainable manner.

The warning gives Thailand just six months to show improvement on illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing practices – or face a crippling ban on exports to the huge European market.

On Tuesday (Bangkok time), Poj Aramwattananont, vice chairman of the Board of Trade and president of the Thai Frozen Foods Association, told reporters in Bangkok that the government had imposed “tangible measures for combating problems related to illegal employment,” according to a news release from the Thai embassy in Washington D.C.

“We expect that the U.S. and E.U. will fairly consider upgrading Thailand’s status during the upcoming revisions,” Poj said.

Upgrade ‘not warranted’: rights groups

However, rights and anti-trafficking advocates say Thailand has not done enough – despite the crackdown – to deserve a promotion from Tier 3.

“An upgrade to the Tier 2 Watch List or Tier 2 is not warranted, and would effectively reward Thailand for a propaganda campaign that leaves the estimated three to four million migrant workers in Thailand, who comprise about 10 percent of the country’s workforce, increasingly vulnerable to forced labor,” Melysa Sperber, director of the U.S-based Alliance to End Slavery and Trafficking, told BenarNews.

Thailand, in the past year, has done too little to merit an upgrade in the TIP rankings, according to Phil Robertson, deputy Asia director for Human Rights Watch.

“The reality is that not much has changed in Thailand to protect migrants and prevent Cambodian or Burmese men being trafficked on to fishing boats, Lao and Chinese women and girls being duped into brothels, or migrant kids ending up in debt bondage and worse in a variety of economic sectors,” he told BenarNews.

“There's been no real dent in police corruption and connivance with traffickers except in the high publicity case of the Rohingya smuggling rackets,” he said.

He predicts that Thailand will remain relegated to Tier 3.

“What will be important is that the Thai government should quickly get over any rebuff and redouble their efforts, and seriously investigate and apprehend anyone involved in trafficking rackets, regardless of status, rank or affiliation,” Robertson added.

“Bangkok needs to realistically aim for and work towards getting the upgrade in 2016, when one hopes they will have compiled a record that shows they earned it.”

Nasueroh contributed to this report.


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