U.S. honors Thai activist as anti-trafficking hero

The U.S. government honored Thai labor activist and chaplain Apinya Tajit as an anti-trafficking “hero” for her years-long efforts helping fishermen escape bondage, as the U.S. raised Thailand’s ranking in its annual global Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report.

Secretary of State Anthony Blinken presented Apinya and five others with the Trafficking in Persons Report Hero Award at a ceremony in Washington D.C. last week. The event coincided with the release of the State Department’s TIP Report for 2022.

Apinya is a Deputy Director and chaplain for Stella Maris, a global seafarer’s charity that has a branch in Thailand’s Chanthaburi province.

Blinken bestowed the award on Apinya in recognition of her “heartfelt and unwavering persistence in advocating for workers exploited in forced labor, particularly in the fishing industry.” She also works with the International Transport Workers Federation, which works to ensure safe and fair working conditions on ships.

“We return sons to their mothers, fathers to their children, and husbands to their wives. Seafarers may be out of sight, but they are not out of mind,” Apinya said in accepting the award. “We assist by way of helping identify victims, rescuing them, helping them reintegrate into society.”

The Maritime Executive website said that Apinya is known for her work in assisting fishermen in both Southeast Asia and South Asia, and she has helped hundreds.

Apinya added that she and Stella Maris work closely with Thai authorities in conducting inspections of ships and rescues. She also conducts outreach to schools to teach young people about the risks of trafficking.

The U.S. returned Thailand to Tier 2 in its 2022 report, after having slipped to the “watchlist” last year as efforts stalled during the pandemic. Countries in Tier 2 are making progress in fighting trafficking but still have areas to improve. Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said that he was pleased with the ranking but not satisfied. He also added that he is determined to keep improving Thailand’s performance, so that the Kingdom will reach Tier 1.

Photo courtesy of https://www.stellamaris.org.uk/