Thailand to make human trafficking fight a priorty in bid to avoid foreign sanctions

Thailand to make human trafficking fight a priorty in bid to avoid foreign sanctions
Fishing boats moored of Ranong, southern Thailand. It is on boats like these that trafficked labour spend months or years at sea, with little sleep and no pay. The Thai fishing industry has been dogged by allegations of human trafficking as harsh conditions on these boats deter an increasing number of Cambodians and Burmese from taking up jobs there.

The suppression of human trafficking will be made a national priority on Friday to avoid the risk of Thailand being downgraded under an international protocol against trafficking, Deputy Prime Minister and Defence Minister Prawit Wongsuwan said yesterday.

Prawit was also responding to a comment posted on Facebook by former PM Yingluck Shinawatra, in which she said her government had not failed in addressing problems related to human rights violations and child labour in the fishing industry.

"This government is not saying that the previous government did not act on the issue, but it did not solve the problem on the spot, did not amend regulations required and did not follow international standards," the deputy PM said.

Yingluck posted her comment after Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said last week that human trafficking was still a big problem because her government did little to solve it.

Prawit said: "If the previous government claims it acted on the issue, then we need to look into why fishing trawlers were not registered."

The current government would make the suppression of human trafficking part of the national agenda on Friday so Thailand is not held liable for the violation of illegal, unreported and unregulated (IUU) fishing rules, he said.

He said any officials found benefiting from human trafficking would also be punished.

"This is pursuing an important issue that is considered to be serious by the international community," he noted.

On Sunday, Nopphadol Kannika, an adviser to the Labour Ministry, said that 869 trawlers had been inspected since the military government took power in May last year and that 65 had been seized. In comparison, the previous government only inspected 152 trawlers during its three years in office.

"Legal action was only taken against the operator of one trawler [by Yingluck's government]," he said.

Meanwhile, a one-stop service centre has been set up by a special task force from the ministries of Social Development and Human Security, Labour and Foreign Affairs, plus the Department of Special Investigation at Tantui port in Indonesia's Ambon Island to help Thai fishermen working or stuck there. Some 80 Thai fishermen were registered there yesterday.

In another development, the Anti-Money Laundering Office ordered the seizure yesterday of Bt31 million (S$1.3 million) in assets from three men who smuggled Rohingya people into Thailand and supplied them to trawlers based in Songkhla province. Deputy AMLO secretary-general Suwanee Sawaengphol said some 45 people were found connected to the three men and the 121 items on the seizure list included bank deposits and savings bonds.

Police yesterday also apprehended 27 beggars, 13 of who were Cambodians, in Bangkok and nabbed 78 beggars in Sa Kaew province. Pol Colonel Somsakchai Amornsongcharoen, who leads the Women and Children's Protection sub-division, said police would continue hunting down beggars up until today and all Cambodians in custody would be repatriated.

Police also rounded up some 76 Rohingya people on a train yesterday bound for the Thai-Malaysia border via Narathiwat's Sungai Kolok district.

The Rohingya, who were in third-class carriages, were arrested for failing to present legal documents when the train stopped at Nakhon Si Thammarat's Thung Song district.

Initial inquiries revealed that they had boarded the train at different stations such as Hua Lamphong in Bangkok, Nakhon Pathom, Ratchaburi and Chumphon provinces in hope of reaching Sungai Kolok in Narathiwat province.

Police are looking to see if this group is linked to a human trafficking gang, before having them face legal action at the Immigration Police Bureau and getting them deported.

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