Rights groups in Thailand believe that the number of Burmese migrants entering Thailand has steadily increased over the years due to life security and economic hardships. A majority of these migrants are not registered. Alongside the increasing numbers of migrants entering Thailand, there has also been a dramatic increase in the cases of human trafficking. It is estimated that approximately 1 – 2 million Burmese migrants live and work in Thailand, although there is currently no official census data on this population.
Statistics from Burma (Myanmar) stated that 1,344 trafficking victims have been rescued from 594 cases between 2005 and September 2010 and 1,690 traffickers have been charged in these cases. These are the official figures and since many cases go unreported or unseen by authorities, they fall drastically short of the true numbers of victims of trafficking. Burma’s continued economic mismanagement and the unavailability of job opportunities pushes more Burmese to migrate into neighboring countries, where they may become prey to human traffickers. Thai human rights and labor rights groups acknowledge that the towns along the Thai/Burma border such as Ra Noung, Mae Sai and Mae Sot are central hubs for human trafficking.
Mae Sot is considered one of the primary destination and transit points for human trafficking; being the cheapest route from Burma into Thailand, it is used most by the agents/traffickers. There have been numerous cases of death among trafficked victims along the border areas, and particularly in the Tak Province, due to inhumane transporting conditions, dangerous or poorly maintained vehicles and boats, overcrowding, and violence enacted by traffickers, among other reasons.
Transporting people from Myawaddy Township (Burma) to Phop Phra (in Thailand 42kms from Mae Sot) has become the most common route used by the traffickers. Myawaddy Township is a major transit point for traffickers. There is evidence of involvement by the ethnic armed group, DKBA, as well as Burmese and Thai authorities. Multiple reports from migrants indicate that there is a holding area in Myawaddy where people deported from Thailand are kept. There can be up to 100 people imprisoned there at any given time according to these reports. An individual has to pay 2000 Thailand Baht to be released. If, as in many cases, they cannot afford this, traffickers will pay to have them released and transport and sell back in Thailand. These people are sold/re-trafficked in Mae Sot and Phop Phra, Bangkok and sometimes within Burma into a variety of sectors: as housemaids, low wage labor in factories or agricultural areas, as sex-workers, to fishing boats, or sold or exchanged for commodities to Burmese army (child soldiers, porters, and others).
Little or no help has been offered to the victims of trafficking from both governments. SAW has therefore taken the responsibility to develop a multi-sector response to victims of trafficking – men, women and children. This program seeks to 1) respond to the immediate needs of survivors of trafficking; 2) offer services to enhance their quality of life and access to justice; 3) provide services to improve long term livelihoods prospects; 4) reunify them with their families in cases where it is safe and the client wants to return; and, 5) to improve knowledge and awareness of rights to make them active agents in their future safety.
There are two main projects in the Gender Protection Program: Green Hope Shelter and Family Reunification. Under Green Hope, SAW has the support services mentioned above. Both of these projects link up with SAW’s other programs including the Health Program, Child Protection Program, Income Generation Program, Education Program and Community Outreach Program. SAW’s programs are all interlinked and in this way, provide a comprehensive response to the complex needs of survivors of trafficking and other SAW constituents.