TRANG – A total of 14 Burmese nationals who had been trafficked into Thailand’s fishing industry were rescued by the Thai authorities on Friday and Saturday of last week, bringing to 29 the total of those rescued so far this month.
According to sources in Kantang, a port town in southern Thailand’s Trang Province, 11 people were rescued on Friday, while three others were taken into custody on Saturday. Fifteen other Burmese were freed following a raid on March 10.
Thailand’s Department of Special Investigation (DSI) cooperated with Burma’s Labor Ministry and two local Burmese NGOs—the Myanmar Association Thailand (MAT) and the Foundation for Education Development—to rescue the workers, according to Kyaw Thaung, the director of MAT.
Kyaw Thaung said that one Burmese man has been arrested for human trafficking, while the rescued workers are being held at a local police station pending their deportation to Burma.
Most of the workers are in their 20s, although three are aged between 16 and 18.
The victims said they had entered Thailand with the help of brokers who promised them jobs at a chicken-processing plant, where they expected to be paid 10,000 baht (US $340) a month. Instead, they were sold into Thailand’s notoriously exploitative fishing industry, which has a well-documented record of rampant human rights abuses.
MAT said that it has worked with the Thai authorities to free around 50 trafficked Burmese so far this year. A total of 292 victims were rescued in 2012, while eight suspected traffickers were arrested.
Despite the vulnerability of Burmese workers to human rights abuses in Thailand, thousands continue to flood into the country in search of work. To combat the problem of workers being exploited, last March the Thai and Burmese governments set up anti-human trafficking centers in the border towns of Kawthaung and Tachilek.
According to the state-run newspaper The New Light of Myanmar, a third will be opened in Myawaddy before the end of the year.
The Burmese government has also opened offices in Thailand to issue temporary passports to Burmese nationals so that they can legally work in the neighboring country.
Official figures show that 1.2 million Burmese migrants have been issued with temporary passports, while nearly a million workers are still in the process of obtaining legal documents.
However, labor rights groups estimate that there are between 2.5 and 4 million Burmese migrants working in Thailand, many of them illegally. – By THAN HTIKE OO / THE IRRAWADDY|