The Thai authorities have done their best over the past year to stamp out human trafficking involving Rohingya and other migrant victims, the deputy national police chief in charge of tackling human trafficking has said.
In an exclusive interview with The Nation ahead of the release on Friday of the United States's annual report on Trafficking in Persons (TIP), Pol General Aek Angsananont said Thailand's national anti-human trafficking policy, which he oversees, has responded directly to the problems identified by last year's TIP report.
In the 2014 report, the US downgraded Thailand's status among several countries around the world from Tier 2 to Tier 3, suggesting there were unsolved human trafficking problems.
As a result, Prime Minister General Prayut Chan-o-Cha and national police chief Pol General Somyot Poompunmuang assigned Aek to take charge of the nationwide drive against human trafficking.
Aek says he has ensured strict enforcement of laws governing human trafficking, cross-border crime and money laundering, and more than 20 arrest warrants have been issued for key suspects who are believed to be the ringleaders of human trafficking networks.
In addition, the authorities have taken legal action against suspects who are "state officials", such as Lt General Manas Kongpaen, a senior Army advisor, for his alleged role in the Rohingya trafficking network in southern Thailand.
Aek believes victims are now systematically classified according to various trafficking categories and all these measures should be seen positively by the US when reviewing Thailand's handling of the issue in its 2015 report.
W Patrick Murphy, the US charge d affaires in Bangkok, earlier expressed his satisfaction with ongoing efforts.
"We welcome reports that Thai police issued arrest warrants, including for a senior military officer allegedly related to migrant smuggling," he wrote in a tweet.
So far, Thailand has issued arrest warrants for 89 suspects, with 55 already arrested, while Bt118 million (S$4.71 m) worth of cash and other assets related to human trafficking cases have been forfeited under the anti-money laundering law.
One of the key suspects is Nathaphat Saengthong, who was arrested by Myanmar authorities recently. Aek says Myanmar is expected to hand over the suspect to Thailand shortly, even though the countries currently do not have an extradition treaty.
Thai police have also co-operated with Malaysian authorities after mass graves of Rohingya migrants were found in Malaysia near its border with Thailand.
Since the Thai anti-human trafficking law was enacted in 2008, around 1,600 cases, including 300 recent cases, have emerged. Some of the new cases concern cross-border trafficking networks such as those involving the trafficking of Rohingya migrants from Myanmar and Bangladesh.
On April 3, the junta government included the human trafficking issue as part of the national agenda and urged the public to play a role in stamping out human trafficking, the victims of which include not only Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants, but also others who have been forced to engage in prostitution and begging.
Aek says a total of 14 agencies are now involved in the nationwide campaign, including the Labour Ministry and the Fisheries Department, after Thailand was downgraded in the US TIP report in June last year.
With regard to illegal unregulated and unreported fishing activities (IUU), he said the Royal Thai Navy was charged with implementing measures to solve this issue after Thailand got an official warning from the European Union, even though human trafficking includes the use of illegal labour in the fisheries sector.
"I hope the US will fairly evaluate the results of Thailand's measures against human trafficking activities. We've been working hard on this policy at every level from the prime minister down to the national police chief and so on. At a recent meeting with representatives from 25 countries, including the US and the United Nations, the feedback and attitude were quite positive about the results of our work."