Thailand is becoming a center for human trafficking

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Melanie Orhant (mgo6@cornell.edu)
Thu, 24 Sep 1998 13:24:25 -0500


Migrant workers booming as Asian economy declines
Kyodo News Service, September 23, 1998

"You don't know when the police will knock on the door, wake you up, arrest
and deport you. But it is still better than our homeland,'' said Myint
Hallary, an ex-student from Myanmar now working illegally in Thailand.

He is one of almost a million people who have fled political and economic
difficulties at home to seek a better life in Thailand.

According to the Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare, 986,889 illegal
workers now reside in the country, with most of them coming from Cambodia,
China, Laos and Myanmar.

The Thai government relaxed the labor and immigration laws in June 1996 due
to high demand in various sectors, including agriculture, construction and
fishery, during the economic boom.

But times have changed, and Thailand has fallen into deep recession since
July 1997. With a sharp rise in unemployment, the government imposed a new
policy last year to repatriate illegal workers, preserving jobs for Thais.

An official of the labor ministry said 260,825 illegal workers had been
repatriated by last Aug. 31.

Malaysia also has repatriated more than a million alien workers, and
Singapore has deported hundreds of illegal Thai workers. Seventy Thai
migrants are waiting to be repatriated from Singapore, according to Kobsak
Chutikul, a spokesman of the Thai Foreign Ministry.

''Many once-legal migrant workers are also slipping underground or
overstaying their visa as they have no reason or desire to return to almost
certain unemployment in their home countries,'' said Mark E. Getchell,
regional representative for East Asia and Oceania of the International
Organization for Migration (IOM).

But the economic crisis in Southeast Asia is pushing people to seek work
aboard.

According to Reynaldo Regalado, administrator of the Philippine Overseas
Employment Administration (POEA), the number of applications for overseas
employment has increased, despite a decline in job offers.

The most favored destinations are Japan, Hong Kong, Singapore and Taiwan.
''The depreciation of the (Philippine) peso's value against the U.S. dollar
has made overseas employment more attractive,'' he said.

Much of the migrant-worker boom is created by criminal groups trafficking
such people, according to Getchell. ''IOM estimates that the trafficking
industry generates up to 8 billion U.S. dollars each year from trade in
human misery,'' he told a Bangkok seminar recently.

Traffickers know the market well and can match supply with demand, said
Vorasakdi Mahatadhanobol, a researcher of the Institute of Asian Studies at
Thailand's Chulalongkorn University who conducted research into Chinese
women in the Thai sex trade.

Thousands of girls from China's southern provinces flocked to work in
Thailand's sex industry, and some of them go on to Malaysia or Singapore,
he said.

''The Thai economic meltdown has no impact on this segment of the sex
industry. A Chinese girl provides her service for Chinese men from mainland
China or Taiwan who invest here. China's and Taiwan's economies are still
in good health. They still have enough money to enjoy life,'' he told Kyodo
News.

Thailand is becoming a center for human trafficking, taking in people from
neighboring countries and sending its own citizens to developed nations
such as Japan, he said.

According to an official of the Thai Foreign Ministry, the Thai Embassy in
Japan helps hundreds of Thai women return home every year. Many of them
were abducted or tricked into prostitution in Japan, she added.

A similar picture can be seen in the Philippines. Regalado of the POEA said
Philippine women are vulnerable to trafficking in the present economic crisis.

There was no decline in requests for entertainer auditions during the first
six months of 1998. Deployment to Japan increased 21% in the first half of
this year compared with the same period in 1997, he said, adding the label
''entertainer'' sometimes implies ''sex worker.''

''Filipino entertainers in Japan are considered vulnerable, not because
they lack skills, but because they are young, beautiful women in a
hazardous or vulnerable occupation,'' he said.

''While laws against trafficking exist, they are seldom enforced. And even
when they are enforced, their objective to reduce or eliminate trafficking
is difficult to achieve.''

Melanie Orhant

Co-Director
Human Trafficking Program
Global Survival Network

P.O. Box 73214
Washington, DC 20009
T: 387-0028
F: 387-2590
Email: morhant@igc.org
www.globalsurvival.net


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