Police rescue trafficked migrants, over 100 fishers arrested

3_1269538Thai police rescued 29 men from Myanmar last week who had been trafficked and held against their will on an island off the coast of Phuket after one of the captives escaped and alerted authorities who also arrested three suspects, as the government continued its campaign to smash transnational human trafficking gangs operating in Thailand.

The rescued men said they had been repeatedly sold to work on fishing ships for short stints. Since the government launched its crackdown on illegal, unregulated and unreported (IUU) fishing eight months ago, over 130 victims of trafficking in the fishing industry have been rescued, more than 100 people arrested for breaking laws and the number of investigations into violations has doubled, said Deputy National Police Chief Thammasak Witcharaya.

Nearly all of those arrested had been prosecuted, and more than two thirds received prison sentences, said Thammasak.

Police and the Thai Navy have been searching for island hideouts and floating mother ships where traffickers have reportedly been holding captives.  The three suspected traffickers who were arrested were all from Myanmar, underscoring the transnational nature of the trafficking syndicates.

“We have finally discovered a small place where 29 victims were locked inside on the province’s Siray Island,” said Police General Kornchai Klayklueng, commander of the police’s Anti-Human Trafficking Division.

He added that the victims had come to Thailand voluntarily because they were promised good paying jobs. But after they arrived, they were locked up on the island until taken out for “work trips” on fishing trawlers with each trip lasting about a week. Some of the victims said they had been beaten and physically attacked while working on the trawlers.

Thai police said the rescue was the result of close cooperation and joint efforts with their counterparts in Myanmar. They said that Myanmar police passed on information after one of the captives had escaped and made his way back to Myanmar and alerted the authorities there.

The vast majority of foreign trafficking victims in Thailand come from Myanmar and Cambodia, both of which border the Kingdom and are less developed economically. Often, they migrate illegally to Thailand in search of better paying work and end up in the hands of traffickers. The Thai government has been registering migrant workers so they can find employment in the Kingdom without turning to people smugglers. More than one million migrants have already been registered, but the trafficking problem persists.

Thais are also victims of traffickers, and last week the Department of Employment said it would start taking steps to clamp down on Thais migrating illegally to countries such as South Korea to find better paying jobs.

Many end up being deported, and some also fall into the web of trafficking syndicates.

For more information and updates about Thailand’s policies and actions against trafficking in persons and related issues, visit www.thaianti-humantraffickingaction.org