Labour trafficking a threat in Laos

Human trafficking and illegal labour movements from Vietnam have become a major concern that needs to be addressed in Laos, according to an official.

Director of Legal Division Department of Consular, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Soutchay Soukhaseum, said the problem of illegal Vietnamese labourers entering Laos had recently emerged along the border of the two countries, especially in Khammuan and Borikhamxay provinces.

Soutchay's remarks come as workers from across the country came together to raise awareness for International Anti-Human Trafficking Day yesterday.

The event aimed to educate local labourers and employers about the risks involved with human trafficking, how to monitor and report the problem and how to work abroad legally.

"Human trafficking is a real issue around the world and Laos is one of many countries that are facing this problem as our country is in the transit area from Vietnam to Thailand," Soutchay said.

She said some parts of the country, particularly in Borikhamxay, are seeing Vietnamese people lured to Laos to join the illegal sex trade.

"Of the Vietnamese people being trafficked to Laos, some have been found and returned home already," she said. "Many people are coming to the country illegally; some take advantage of the visa exception."

Soutchay said the perpetrators usually stayed longer than regulation permits or hide-out in Laos after their visas expire.

Some Lao people are not aware of the labour movement issue and they are hiring Vietnam labourers as they are considered to be cheap, she said.

"They (Lao people) let Vietnamese workers continue to work in Laos due to their affordable price, but they do not realise that they are encouraging the illegal labour moment."

She added these labourers have, in some instances, taken over jobs from Lao people and often are stuck in the country after a failed promise of work from traffickers.

According to Soutchay many Lao people have been victims of human trafficking schemes and are lured to countries like Thailand, China, Malaysia and more recently Indonesia, on the promise of work, only to be exploited as sex-trade workers or cheap labourers.

Soutchay said most Lao people who wish to work outside the country are not aware of how human trafficking works or how to access documents that allow them to work overseas legally. This issue is more common in rural areas where residents have limited educational resources.

Poverty is a main factor that lures people to seek work overseas while some workers want to explore more developed countries.

"Our government has a clean policy for people to work abroad as long as they travel legally, are aware of human trafficking risks and create income for their livelihood as well as the country," she said.

Currently the Department of Consular, Ministry of Foreign Affairs runs weekly free seminars for Lao residents who wish to work abroad focusing on the risks of human trafficking and the help available to victims of the scheme.

Several international organisations, including the United National Population Fund, also support the campaign to end human trafficking in the region.