Trafficking suspect handed over to Myanmar, aid for fishermen


Thailand handed over a suspected human trafficker from Myanmar to authorities in that country last week, underscoring the growing regional cooperation in combatting modern-day slavery, as the Thai government said it would provide financial help to, or buy vessels from fishermen who can not meet the new requirements and regulations against illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing.

Suriyan Kanjanasil, the governor of southern Ranong province, which borders Myanmar, was present at the ceremony to hand over the suspect, identified only as Zhi, to law enforcement officials from Thailand’s western neighbor. He is the second suspect authorities in Ranong have turned over to Myanmar officials this year. Intelligence sharing between law enforcement agencies on both sides of the border has been increasing, especially in areas such as human trafficking and narcotics trafficking.

Over 300 people in Myanmar had filed complaints against Zhi claiming they had paid him paid him fees for jobs in the construction industry in Thailand only to end up being forced to work on Thai fishing boats against their will. Myanmar authorities alerted their Thai counterparts he had fled across the border where he was still working for a trafficking syndicate.

Police Colonel Myan Khai, chief of Myanmar’s anti-human trafficking unit, said Zhi was also a suspect in several other cases including cases of murder. His arrest illustrates the transnational nature and composition of human trafficking syndicates. A large percentage of trafficking victims in Thailand are Myanmar nationals and they often end up in the fishing or seafood industries.

The government of Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has made fighting human trafficking a national priority and sought regional cooperation to combat modern-day slavery. Since the middle of last year, when police uncovered camps and graves of traffickers and victims in the Deep South, Thai authorities have made over 150 arrests and are seeking another 100 or so suspects.

Laws have been amended and strengthened, enforcement beefed up, greater resources committed, prevention programs initiated and services to victims expanded and improved. A special division of the Criminal Court has also been established to deal solely with trafficking cases and expedite justice. Aside from working with neighboring countries, the government has also been partnering with United Nations agencies and civil society groups in order to attack the problem on all fronts.

While many trafficking victims end up working on fishing boats, the related problem of illegal, unregulated and unreported fishing is another serious issue that the Thai government has been addressing with comprehensive and effective actions. Among them have been revoking the licenses of fishing vessels that fail to registers with the authorities, restricting what equipment can used, limiting days and areas that can be fished and installing tracking systems no larger ships. These moves are designed to protect marine resources and prevent trafficking.

Thousands of fishing boat owners have repeatedly protested to the Prime Minister, asking him to revoke the new regulations so that they can leave port and fish. The Prime Minister has stood his ground.

Last week, the Cabinet approved a budget to buy fishing boats from owners who cannot conform to new regulations so that they can leave the industry with some compensation, and also to provide soft loans to boat owners who are willing to upgrade their equipment so they can follow regulations and start fishing again.

For more information and updates about Thailand’s policies and actions against trafficking in persons and related issues,