Thailand condemns US trafficking ranking

Migrants. PHOTO:

Migrants. PHOTO:

Thailand hit out at its longtime ally the United States late Monday after a scathing report by Washington accused the kingdom of failing to take sufficient action against human trafficking.

The southeast Asian country found itself alongside nations like Iran, Libya, North Korea, Eritrea and Syria at the lowest rung of the State Department’s annual ranking for countries accused of turning a blind eye to a trade the US describes as “modern slavery”.

It is the second year in a row the southeast Asian nation has been placed at the lowest “Tier 3” level.

In its damning assessment the State Department said Thailand remained a “source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking”.

But Bangkok’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs said the ranking “did not accurately reflect the significant efforts” made by the current junta government to address trafficking.

“Despite the tier ranking, Thailand will continue to do its utmost to overcome the remaining challenges, while also promoting security and upholding our long and distinguished tradition of adherence to humanitarianism,” the ministry added in a statement.

The southeast Asian nation has long been accused of ignoring official complicity in the multi-million dollar trafficking trade which had until recent months flourished through its southern provinces and onto Malaysia.

A Thai crackdown in May led to the unravelling of vast people-smuggling networks with thousands of migrants abandoned in open waters and jungle camps by traffickers, a crisis that eventually forced a Southeast Asia-wide response.

A significant proportion of those trying to head to Malaysia are persecuted Rohingya Muslims from Myanmar.

Unlike its neighbour, Malaysia was promoted a ranking to “Tier 2 Watchlist”. Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia also remained on that level.

On Friday, prosecutors in Bangkok said 72 people including a senior army officer would be indicted for involvement in the trade.

But the May crackdown came too late to be included in the State Department’s 2015 report while human rights groups have questioned whether the arrests have really dismantled what has long been an entrenched trade.

The country’s lucrative fishing industry has also been dogged by allegations of employing slave labourers, many of whom are impoverished migrant workers from Cambodia and Myanmar who toil for years at sea without seeing land.

Earlier this year the EU threatened to slap Thailand with an import ban unless it did more to regulate its fishing sector, prompting Bangkok to initiate a crackdown on illegal and unregulated trawlers.

Speaking to reporters before the report was released, Thailand’s junta chief Prayut Chan-O-Cha said he was not expecting his country to be upgraded.

“I don’t expect it,” he told reporters. “But I do hope to solve this problem which will take time. It cannot be solved in one day, one month or one year.”

Prayut, who took over in a coup in May 2014, has said tackling trafficking is a national priority and has vowed to pursue any officials caught up in the trade.

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