Category Archives: Death by Suffocation of 54 Burmese Migrants

TIP report harms, not helps, sex workers

The American government seems to enjoy the role of headmaster giving out grades to students.

The American headmaster has had 13 years to help Thai students improve its anti-human trafficking performance through the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, which ranks countries according to their efforts to end trafficking. The latest report card for Thailand, however, shows the problem is not getting any better. Worse, we are now ranked among the world’s worst performers.

The self-appointed American headmaster may blame his students, but wiser teachers would realise the TIP system simply does not work and has failed migrant workers in Thailand.

In its first TIP report card back in 2001, Thailand received a Grade 2, meaning “could do better”. Then in 2010, after eight years of cooperation with the USA anti-trafficking agenda and lots of money spent on anti-trafficking projects, Thailand was dropped to Grade 2.5.

Now in 2014, after millions of dollars and another four years of USA policy, human trafficking problems remain unchanged and Thailand has been dumped to Grade 3 by its headmaster.

America may need to ask this question: If you do something the exact same way every year for 13 years and things stay the same, or get worse, isn’t it time to change the school of thought?

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has a new strategic plan (2015-2020) with a focus on promoting decent work for all, especially ending forced labour and unacceptable working conditions for everyone. In short, it is going beyond an emphasis on trafficking victims.

The ILO, which has no particular country bias, is much better placed to monitor and guide international labour standards than a single country like America.

Despite good intentions, the TIP process and anti-trafficking law end up harming poor people who need work.

A Grade 3 means the US can stop or reduce aid to and trade with Thailand. We have not heard of any strategy or plan to assist workers who have lost their livelihoods from anti-trafficking crackdowns.

Trafficking is loosely defined as playing a role in the movement of people to benefit from the exploitation of their labour. In practice for the past 13 years, the enforcement of anti-trafficking laws has been limited to conducting raids and apprehending migrant workers in seafood factories and entertainment venues.

Migrant workers need to work to support themselves and their families. The implementation of anti-trafficking laws through crackdowns has, in effect, made providing for their family a criminal activity under the law and bilateral agreements with the USA.

It must be pointed out that labour standards and quality of life for migrant workers have not been improved by the American anti-trafficking policy; instead, it is an obstacle.

Workers should be able to address issues of unfair wages, dangerous work practices and working conditions. The anti–trafficking law hinders this process. Many migrant workers refuse to demand their rights due to the threat of “rescue and deportation” as trafficking victims.

The budget spent on anti-trafficking is substantial. In 2005, the American government awarded $95 million (3 billion baht) to 266 anti-trafficking projects, including seven in Thailand. Spending has increased since then.

Yet all this money has not resulted in better human rights or labour conditions for workers. In fact, we can argue that life has become harder, more dangerous and more expensive.

For example, Thai workers who want to work overseas have to pay much higher fees. Many are forced to borrow from loan sharks to meet the higher costs.

Migrant workers found they need to be assisted by someone in authority, or with influence, to move and find work. This need is often exploited, feeding the culture of corruption and exploitation.

In April 2008, 54 migrant workers from Myanmar suffocated and died while attempting to travel undetected in an unventilated container truck in Ranong.

In 2012, Empower released a report outlining the negative impacts of the anti-trafficking law on the lives of migrant sex workers and their families. Based on real-life experiences, it is an in-depth community research study that provides details and examples of widespread abuses.

For starters, American anti-trafficking money is attractive. Since the police already know the entertainment industry, they use entrapment to arrest sex workers. This is abuse in itself, according to the National Human Rights Commission.

To fulfill their crackdown homework under American anti-trafficking policy, police pretend to be customers, even using sex workers’ service first, before making arrests. It is accurate to say that rape is part of police work under this anti-trafficking policy.

Initially, the American anti-trafficking agenda focused on migrant sex workers who were labelled as victims but treated as criminals. Photos of raids — men in uniforms standing over women who are crouching, covering their faces, or with their eyes blacked out — are common in the media. These iconic images accompany almost every story on the crime of prostitution.

Over the past decade, the headlines might have changed but the image used is still the same. So is the situation of human and labour rights in the entertainment industry.

Now that the focus has shifted to workers in the seafood industry, another typical image that has emerged is that of migrant workers on fishing boats or women and children peeling shrimps. Will this image stay for another decade along with a similar lack of improvement in their work conditions?

Last year, Empower ran a project supported by the US embassy in Thailand to train sex workers in human rights and paralegal skills.

This project informed sex workers that even if they are suspected of breaking the law or are witnesses to the crime of human trafficking, they still have many rights. For example, they are entitled to have a translator, to contact their families or a trusted person. They also must be provided with a lawyer and other basic requirements, such as food, clothing and health care while in custody.

There are protections and punishments under each law and the overall principle is that if someone is not guilty, they must be released. However, the experience of migrants under current anti-trafficking practices is not one of protection and assistance according to the law. Under the anti-trafficking framework, migrants have been frequently kept in custody longer than any law prescribes.

Frequently there is help with translation. It is also common to establish migrant sex workers’ ages as minors by examining their teeth and/or by X-ray. These methods are often inaccurate, leading to further violations of human rights and prolonged custody. As witnesses, they are kept in custody and not cared for or compensated as they should be under the Witness Protection Act.

The Suppression of Human Trafficking Act 2008 actually offers much protection and assistance. However, there has been no full report on how these obligations are met, or full disclosure of budget and spending by the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security.

By overlooking the situation migrant sex workers face after police crackdowns, the American government comes across as indifferent to their rights. Maybe they just don’t care, and the number of “victims” arrested are merely used to show that someone is doing something to stop the criminals.

The US likes to be seen as a champion of human rights, equality and justice. But their TIP process and anti-trafficking agenda undermines these noble ideals.

All people need is to be able to work in safe and fair conditions. What we should aim for is the improvement of workplaces and labour rights for all workers, including sex workers, rather than following the American anti-trafficking agenda, which has failed the very people it sets out to help.
By: Chantawipa Apisuk, Bangkok Post

Still no prosecution in tragic death of 54 Myanmar migrants, Mathaba Net News

Although 66 survivors in the same vehicle have become witnesses during the investigation, their smugglers have yet to be brought to justice.

The tragic death of 54 illegal Myanmar migrants from suffocation in a seafood container in Ranong province eight months ago, has drawn great attention to the plight of Myanmar job seekers who are willing to risk their lives in search of what they believe to be a better life. Yet eight months on….the prosecution of the smugglers has proven no easy task.

This cemetery became the unwanted destination of those ill-fated Myanmar illegal migrants who died of suffocation while crammed in an unventilated seafood container in April 2008 in the southern Thai province of Ranong.

Although 66 survivors in the same vehicle have become witnesses during the investigation, their smugglers have yet to be brought to justice.

According to a report of the Department of Special Investigation or DSI, migrant worker smuggling gangs in Ranong, just opposite Myanmar shoreline, are a thriving business, with about 12 Thai smuggling syndicates working closely with them. The criminal networks have become more powerful by using violence against those who turn against them.

“As the trial went on, our witness was shot dead. The gangs used violence to threaten the migrant workers,” said Pol Lt-Col Pongin Inthornkao, a DSI investigator.

Because of a legal loophole, 8 people accused in the April 10 suffocation tragedy were filed only with light charge– providing shelter for illegal migrants and causing death to other persons by recklessness. The 66 Myanmar survivors were charged with illegal entry.

“Only a charge of recklessness causing death to a person can’t lead to the seizure of the assets of any wrongdoer under the money laundering bill,” said Thanu Eakchote, a lawyer of Myanmar survivors.

Although a new law to strictly prevent human trafficking was enforced in mid 2008, law-enforcement agencies express concern it might not bring wrongdoers to conviction as the new law can be enforced only if a forced labour case occurs.

The tragic April 2008 death of the Myanmar illegal migrants was not the first time it’s happened. Since 2007, at least 92 Myanmar migrants have died, while an unknown number have been smuggled into the kingdom. But despite an uncertain fate awaiting at their destination, it seems unlikely to deter Myanmar migrants from fleeing poor conditions in their homeland in search of a better life.

Compensation awarded to migrants’ families, Democratic Voice of Burma

The families of 54 Burmese migrants who suffocated to death in a lorry in Thailand in April are to receive compensation from the Thai government and the vehicle owner.

Htoo Chit, director of the Human Rights Education Institute of Burma in Phang Nga province, Thailand, praised the work of NGOs in bringing about the decision.

“After the hard work done by NGOs based in Thailand – the Migrant Assistance Programme Foundation, the Burmese Labour Union and the Lawyers’ Council of Thailand – compensation for the 54 Burmese migrants who died in April will be paid to their families,” Htoo Chit said.

“[They will receive] 35,000 baht each from the company that owned the vehicle and 65,000 baht from the Thai government.”

But Htoo Chit expressed concern that the money might not reach its intended recipients in Burma.

“The money will be channelled through the Burmese government and we are worried that those who are supposed to get it might not,” he said.

Around 40 NGO representatives and activists went to the Thai Ministry of Justice on 22 April to lay a wreath and present a letter calling on the ministry not to immediately deport the survivors of the incident back to Burma and to consider providing compensation to the families of those who died.

Reporting by Aye Nai

Burmese receive 35,000 baht in suffocation cases, Bangkok Post

An insurance company will initially pay 35,000 baht ($1,044) to relatives of each Burmese migrant worker who died from suffocation in the back of a seafood truck in southern Ranong province, a senior Thai Justice Ministry official said Tuesday.

Suwanna Suwanjutha, director-general of the Rights and Liberties Protection Department, said the insurance firm had paid the money to relatives of the migrant workers who died on April 9 due to suffocation.

The incident occurred because the driver apparently failed to turn on the air conditioning in the container, which was normally used to transport frozen food. A total of 121 people had been crammed inside the container only six metres long and 2.2 metres wide.

Mrs Suwanna said the money would be awarded to relatives of 34 of the victims at Burma’s Victoria Point so that they would not have to travel to Thailand to receive compensation. The company is now compiling documents and will pay compensation to relatives of the 20 remaining victims.

Another 65,000 baht will be paid to relatives of each victim in accordance with the Thailand’s automobile accident law if the victims were found to have not committed any crime.

Of the remaining survivors, Thai police investigators have taken 10 of them as witnesses, while others have been repatriated to Burma. (TNA)

Families of suffocated Myanmar workers’ awarded Bt35,000 each, MCOT

An insurance company will initially pay Bt35,000 (US$1,044) to relatives of each Myanmar migrant worker who died from suffocation in the back of a seafood truck in the southern Thai province of Ranong bordering Myanmar earlier this year, a senior Thai Justice Ministry official said Tuesday.

Suwanna Suwanjutha, director-general of the Rights and Liberties Protection Department, said the insurance firm had paid the money to relatives of the Myanmar migrant workers who died on April 9 due to suffocation.

The incident occurred because the driver apparently failed to turn on the air conditioning in the container, which was normally used to transport frozen food. A total of 121 people had been crammed inside the container only six metres long and 2.2 metres wide.

Mrs. Suwanna said the money would be awarded to relatives of 34 of the 54 victims at Myanmar’s Victoria Point bordering Thailand’s Ranong province, so that they would not have to travel to Thailand to receive the compensation. The company is now compiling documents tol pay compensation to relatives of the 20 remaining victims.

Another Bt65,000 will be paid to relatives of each victim in accordance with Thailand’s automobile accident law if the victims were found to have not committed any crime.

Of the remaining survivors, Thai police investigators have taken 10 of them as witnesses, while others have been repatriated to Myanmar, also known as Burma. (TNA)

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