Annual US Trafficking in Persons Report upgrades Thailand from lowest tier, but warns problem ‘remains large’
The United States has removed Thailand from a human trafficking blacklist, acknowledging “significant efforts” made by Thai authorities -- who had already welcomed the decision a day before it was officially announced.
“Thailand was upgraded to Tier 2 Watch List,” the U.S. embassy in Bangkok said in a statement released Thursday and reported in local media.
“The ranking indicates that the Government of Thailand made significant efforts to eliminate trafficking during the rating period, but still does not fully meet the minimum standard for doing so,” it added.
In 2015, Thailand remained in Tier 3 -- the lowest rank in the annual U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report -- for a second consecutive year.
A Tier 3 ranking for a third consecutive year would have triggered a steep decrease in the buying of seafood products by U.S. companies -- the fishing and seafood industries being the main economic sectors in Thailand accused of using trafficked labor.
“In 2015, the Thai government reported increases over the previous years in investigating sex trafficking cases and suspected cases of forced labour, as well as in prosecuting and convicting hundreds of traffickers,” said the U.S. embassy statement.
“The government also began to investigate labour trafficking in the fishing industry in dozens of cases,” it added.
As news of the upgrade had begun to filter in government circles Wednesday, Thailand’s deputy-prime minister and defense minister, Gen. Prawit Wongsuwon, told the Bangkok Post that he “welcomed the news”, adding that “the country will not let up in its crackdown on human trafficking”.
Also anticipating the upgrade, Sirinart Chaimun, director general of the Thai Trade Negotiations Department, a unit of the commerce ministry, said it would have “a positive psychological impact on consumers, importers as well as retailers in the United States and European markets, who are expected to buy more Thai products”.
The report, however, emphasized that the Tier 2 ranking indicates that “the problem of human trafficking in Thailand remains large and requires additional, substantial and effective government leadership.”
The report issued a series of recommendations and encouraged Thailand, among others to “actively scrutinize and improve labour recruitment practices through official and non-official channels for migrant workers”, as well as take measures against “some government officials [who] profit from bribes and [have] direct involvement in the extortion of migrants and their sale to brokers”.
Human smuggling and human trafficking in the fishery and seafood industry has been a chronic problem in Thailand for decades.
Migrants, mostly from Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Bangladesh, are brought by smugglers into Thailand where they hope to find work.
An increasing number of them are Rohingya Muslims who fled persecution in Myanmar’s troubled western Rakhine state.
Over the years, many of the Rohingya -- who seek to travel to majority Muslim Malaysia -- had been kept in jungle camps in southern Thailand by human traffickers who then demanded ransoms from their families.
In May 2015, dozens of bodies were discovered in graves along Thailand’s border with Malaysia, prompting Thailand’s military government, which seized power in a coup in May 2014, to launch a large-scale campaign against human trafficking.