Cambodia, China, Lao PDR, Myanmar, Thailand,Vietnam

UN Responds to Thai Government Action Meeting on Human Trafficking
(Dusit Island Resort, Chiang Rai, Thailand)

 The first Workshop on Human Trafficking, organised by the Office of the Permanent Secretary of the Prime Minister, the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, the Royal Thai Police, and the by the UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (UNIAP), commenced today in Chiang Rai.

 The Royal Thai Government sees human trafficking as “urgent and important an issue as drugs.” said H.E. Deputy Prime Minister Prof. Purachai Piumsombun, who was the key note speaker, which coincidentally was held in the same hotel and same room as the 2001 workshop which launched the campaign against illegal drugs in Thailand. He urged that clear political will is necessary in order to tackle the problem. 

 “The issue is not just concerned with Thais but all nationalities, and we must help them equally as our brothers and sisters. Officials should not look at where victims are from but rather, focus on how these victims, no matter what nationality, can be helped” added the Deputy PM. He said strong action should be taken against public officials who are involved or complicit in the protection of human trafficking networks.

 The UN Resident Coordinator in Thailand and UNDP Resident Representative, Mr. J.K. Robert England, followed the Deputy Prime Minister and commended the Thai Government for taking a lead role on this issue and for making a commitment to make the fight against human trafficking a

national priority. He pointed out that there is “a lot more heat, than light on the issue” and he thanked all partners involved for helping to illuminate the complexities of the issue.

 Mr. England noted that human trafficking is a global issue, affecting virtually all countries. It cannot be addressed by one country alone.

 Mr. England remarked that Thailand, as a centre of economic prosperity at the centre of the Greater Mekong Sub-region, surrounded by much poorer neighbours, faces particularly strong challenges in the fight against human trafficking.  It is an origin, transit, and destination country for victims of human trafficking.  Victims - women, men and children are trafficked not only into prostitution, but also into other exploitative and forced labour situations.  Trafficking equates to slavery, whether it be women trafficked into domestic labour, children trafficked into begging rings or selling flower garlands, or men trafficked into the fishing industry.

 Mr. England added that the issue of human trafficking speaks to the heart of the UN’s interest in human rights. He commended the Deputy PM for encapsulating the human rights issue in his address, and for emphasizing that no matter what the legal status of the victim, they should be treated equally and humanely. Mr. England said he was pleased that the fight against human trafficking would be placed on equal status to that of the fight on drugs but added that there were some controversial techniques used in the ‘War on Drugs’ in Thailand, where one of the unintended consequences was an increased stigmatization of drug users.  In response to human trafficking, Mr. England hoped for “a balance between law enforcement and the humanity/human rights of victims.” The challenge for Thailand would be to translate huge aspirations into practice.

 Mr. England stated that human trafficking is a consequence of the globalisation process and is, in itself, a product of immigration controls during the migration process. “If there was the free flow of people across borders, like there is a free flow of capital, there would not be human trafficking as such, although there would still be an exploitation of labour.”  He highlighted the strong connection between controls on migration, since it those immigration laws and regulations that make foreign workers illegal, and heighten their vulnerability to forced or highly exploitative labour. These restrictive immigration controls subject victims of trafficking to a double jeopardy situation. First these victims are ruthlessly exploited by the traffickers and employers. Then when these victims seek assistance to end their exploitation, they are often arrested, punished, and then deported because of their illegal status – often losing whatever savings they may have earned in the course of their ordeal.    

Mr. England pointed out the economic dynamics of human trafficking – that people move in pursuit of self-betterment in the face of inequalities of opportunity.  He highlighted the Royal Thai Government’s efforts for seeking to address this - by supporting the broad development of the Greater Mekong

 Sub-region (GMS) so as to equalize opportunity.  “In the long-run”, he said, “this will help to address trafficking, but not in the short term.  Meanwhile, if public policies don’t take into account the strength of economic incentives – then they are doomed to be ineffective” he said.

 The Deputy PM emphasized the requirement for regional co-operation on the issue of human trafficking.

 Thailand and the GMS countries of Cambodia, P.R. China, Lao PDR, Myanmar and Vietnam have taken the lead in organizing an important sub-regional process, the Co-ordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative against Trafficking (COMMIT) which will be held in Yangon in October 2004.  This is the first inter-country, inter-ministerial forum for forging concrete alliances and arrangements to combat human trafficking in the region. The idea for COMMIT was initially raised by the Royal Thai Government with its neighbours, demonstrating Thai leadership on the issue.  The GMS governments are seizing the initiative to serve as an example to the world on efforts to build regional co-operation. Mr. England emphasized the need for all Ministries, agencies, and other partners in the fight against human trafficking to “re-commit ourselves to the COMMIT process.” 

Media Release Contact:
Melissa Stewart
Regional Information & Communications Officer
UN Inter-Agency Project to Combat Human Trafficking in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (UNIAP)
Tel:  662-288-2575
Mobile:  661-372-8608
Fax:  662-280-0268