The Kingdom of Thailand is reputed to be the only Southeast Asian country which has never been colonized by a European power. The head of state is King Wachiralongkon while the head of Government is Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha. He came into power after a military coup in 2014. In a country which is predominantly Buddhist (94.6% of 69million people) the 379,975 Catholics, represent only 0.46 percent of the population. Thailand is an emerging economic powerhouse in South East Asia and highly dependent on foreign labour. The top earners in the country are agriculture,tourism, manufacturing and minerals.
Migration, both internal and international continues to play a significant role in the social and economic development of Thailand. In 2017, there is an estimate of 41,000 internally displaced persons, 3.0-4.5 million migrant workers, 480,000 stateless persons, 110,000 skilled professionals and 100,000 refugees and asylum seekers in Thailand. They come mostly from Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Vietnam and Myanmar. However, Thailand must deal with Karen and Rohingya refugees fleeing civil strife and political upheaval in Burma. The promotion and implementation of human rights in Thailand has to be improved. Thailand has also not ratified the 1951 UN Refugee Protocol. Undocumented migrants, especially women and children are extremely vulnerable to physical abuses, indefinite detention, and extortion by Thai authorities, exploitation by employers, violence and human trafficking by criminals who sometimes collaborate with corrupt officials. They do not enjoy good healthcare, education, insurance services. Thailand is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. A total of 455 individuals in Thailand were officially identified as trafficked persons in 2017 although the actual numbers are much more. The victims, mostly from Burma, Cambodia, Laos, China, Vietnam, Uzbekistan, and India and are engaged in commercial fishing, fishing-related industries, factories, domestic work, street begging, or the very lucrative sex trade. Thailand is in Tier 2 of the USA TIP Report. The 2019 IOM report notes that the Royal Thai Government has improved on reforms to the laws to manage the fisheries sector, made amendments to the Royal Ordinance on the Management of Foreign Workers Employment, established Migrant Worker Assistance Centres, and ratified the 2014 Protocol to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29). Unfortunately, the implementation of these laws is still far from satisfactory.
A sign of hope exists in the greater collaboration between the Government, CSOs, Faith Based organizations and the Church in caring, supporting and advocating for the rights of vulnerable people on the move. Caritas Thailand works in partnership with the Catholic Bishops Conference of Thailand. The Jesuit Refugee Services provides financial support, educational training, casework and psychosocial services to refugees and asylum seekers while the Good Shepherd congregations care for trafficked victims. In view of the mounting challenges faced by vulnerable people on the move, there is still a great need to create more awareness of their plight and provide pastoral care especially at diocesan, parish and grassroot levels. The Church is encouraged to deepen her commitment, dialogue, networking and collaboration with Government, CSOs, FBOs and all stakeholders involved to provide more life giving care, support and advocate for the many vulnerable groups of people on the move.
Thailand is the only Southeast Asian country never to have been colonized by a European power. It is a constitutional monarchy with King Wachiralongkon ascending the throne in December 2016. He is the chief of State but the head of Government is Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-ocha. It occupies 513,120 sq.km and its capital is Bangkok. The official language of Thailand is Thai. Its climate is tropical, warm and humid. As of July 2018, Thailand has a population of 68,615,858 people. Buddhism is the dominant religion as 94.6% are Buddhist, Muslim 4.3%, Christian and others 1% (2015 est.). According to ucanews.com, the 379,975 Catholics, represent only 0.46 percent of the population in 2018. Ethnically, 75% were Ethnic Thai, 14% were Thai Chinese, and 3% were ethnically Malay. The remainder of the population falls into small minority groups including hill tribes, Khmers and Mons.
With a GDP of 3.9 in 2017, Thailand’s economic fundamentals are sound, with low inflation, low unemployment, and reasonable public and external debt levels. It has a relatively well-developed infrastructure, a free-enterprise economy, and generally pro-investment policies. Thailand is highly dependent on international trade, with exports accounting for about two-thirds of GDP. Agriculture, tourism, manufacturing and minerals are top earners for the country. Over the last few decades, Thailand has reduced poverty substantially. In less than a generation, Thailand had emerged as a middle-income country and transitioned from being a net-sending to a net-receiving nation for labour migration. Thailand has attracted an estimated 3.0-4.5 million migrant workers and expatriates, mostly from neighboring countries. However, Thailand must deal with Karen and other ethnic rebels, refugees, and irregular cross-border activities. Approximately 105,000 mostly Karen refugees fleeing civil strife, political upheaval and economic stagnation in Burma live in remote camps in Thailand near the border. It has border disputes with Cambodia, and Laos. Thailand has also experienced violence associated with the ethno-nationalist insurgency in its southern Malay-Muslim majority provinces since January . The construction of Hatgyi Dam on the Salween river that flows through China, Burma, and Thailand has displaced a lot of people.
The promotion and implementation of human rights in Thailand has to be improved. The military junta which took control of the Government in the May 2014 coup continued to
prosecute its critics and pro democracy activists under the sedition law and the Computer-Related Crime Act (CCA). They have also implemented more restrictive migration policy to safeguard national security and stem irregular migration.
Migration, both internal and international continues to play a significant role in the social and economic development of Thailand. There is a high demand for low skilled workers to fuel its economic growth.
It is a key country of transit and destination for migrants, displaced persons and asylum seekers within South-East Asia. Since the 1990’s, there has been large-scale labour migration to Thailand from Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Vietnam and Myanmar. They are in search of better livelihood, while some are escaping from persecution and violence in their country of origin.
Due to its emerging economic significance, Thailand had emerged as a middle-income country and transitioned from being a net-sending to a net-receiving nation for labour migration in less than a generation. Migration to Thailand has intensified tremendously since 2014. Thailand now hosts approximately 4.9 million non-Thai residents, a substantial increase from 3.7 million in 2014. Other major groups include an estimated 480,000 stateless persons, 110,000 skilled professionals and 100,000 refugees and asylum seekers. Constituting over 10 per cent of the total labour force, their work is thought to contribute between 4.3 to 6.6% of Thailand’s Gross Domestic Product.
Migrants will continue to play a key role in Thailand’s development as it integrates into the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) and restructures its economy under the Thailand 4.0 initiative. Migrant labour are especially needed in the manufacturing, construction, fishing and seafood processing, agriculture and domestic work. With an ageing population, low unemployment rate, a major influx of foreign direct investment, and continuing economic growth, the high demand for migrant workers in Thailand is likely to continue for the foreseeable future. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) projects that the migrant labor force will grow with a possible increase to 5.36 million workers by 2025.
Although extremely vital to the growth of the nation, migrant workers are commonly viewed as a temporary source of labour rather than full members of society. One-sided portrayals in the media have resulted in misconceptions and xenophobia about migrant workers among many Thai nationals. They are vulnerable to physical abuses, indefinite detention, and extortion by Thai authorities; severe labor rights abuses and exploitation by employers; violence and human trafficking by criminals who sometimes collaborate with corrupt officials.They often face difficulties in making effective use of education, health-care and insurance services. Migrant workers remained fearful of reporting abuses to authorities due to fears of retaliation.
Women and children are extremely vulnerable in the informal labor market. They are open to abuse and human trafficking. Although Thailand has signed the International Convention on the Rights of the Child, effective implementation is sadly lacking. It is estimated that 200,000 migrant children remain out of school and are not receiving any form of education. (2019). For the children of asylum seekers who cannot be readily deported from the country, they often remain for a long time, in squalid, over-crowded immigration detention centres under squalid conditions; without access to public education and separated from their parents.
Women’s migration to Thailand is largely invisible in comparison to men. Although it is listed as comprising 50.2% of migrant workers in Thailand, this may be an underestimate given that more women who are employed irregularly as domestic workers and sex workers, They often experience intersectional discrimination, less favorable working conditions, less pay, regular working hours, overtime pay and social security. As Thailand is well known for a thriving sex industry, there is also a need to decriminalize and expand recognition of sex work as a form of work.
According to the 2010 Thailand Population and Housing Census, 8.3% of the Thai population had migrated internally during the previous five years, and overall 21.8% of the population did not live in their hometown. Internal migration is largely motivated by uneven levels of development between the rural and urban areas of Thailand and the lack of sufficient livelihood opportunities in the former. The main migration suppliers are the North and Northeast regions of Thailand, while the main migration destinations are the Bangkok Metropolis and vicinities, and the Central region (National Statistical Office 2016, Katewongsa 2015, Guest et al. 1994). Internal migration has significa impacted the social, cultural and economic fabric of society.
In 2017, there are approximately 41,000 internally displaced persons in Thailand due to resurgence in ethno-nationalist violence in south of country since 2004. There is an estimate of 486,440 registered as stateless persons, although the actual number may be as high as 3.5 million. Half of Thailand’s northern hill tribe people do not have citizenship and make up the bulk of Thailand’s stateless population; most lack documentation showing they or one of their parents were born in Thailand. Children born to Burmese refugees and most Chao Lay, maritime nomadic peoples are stateless. They are extremely vulnerable and are denied access to voting, property, education, employment, healthcare, and driving.
Today there are 95,644 refugees living in 9 refugee camps in Thailand (as of May 2019). Most refugees are ethnic minorities from Myanmar, mainly Karen and Karenni, who live in nine camps in four provinces along the Thai-Myanmar border. Refugees in Thailand have been fleeing conflict and crossing Myanmar’s eastern border jungles for the safety of Thailand for nearly 30 years. The recent upheaval in the Rakhine state in Myanmar has also forced Rohingya refugees to transit through Thailand, to flee to Malaysia or other countries which welcome
Rohingya refugees from Burma are considered illegal migrants by Thai authorities and are detained in inhumane conditions or expelled. Thailand is not a party to the 1951 Refugee Convention and its 1967 protocol. Thai authorities continued to treat asylum seekers, including those recognized by the UN as refugees, as illegal migrants subject to arrest and deportation.
Thailand is more well known as a receiving country for foreign labour and as such, very little information is found on the emigration of people, especially skilled labour.
Thailand is a source, transit, and destination country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking. The victims are mostly from Burma, Cambodia, Laos, China, Vietnam, Uzbekistan, and India. They migrate to Thailand in search of jobs but are forced, coerced, or defrauded into labor in commercial fishing, fishing-related industries, factories, domestic work, street begging, or the sex trade. Some Thai, Burmese, Cambodian, and Indonesian men forced to work on fishing boats are kept at sea for years. Sex trafficking of adults and children from Thailand, Laos, Vietnam, and Burma remains a significant problem. Thai victims are also trafficked in North America, Europe, Africa, Asia, and the Middle East. Thailand is also well known as a transit country for victims from China, Vietnam, Bangladesh, and Burma subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor in Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Russia, South Korea, the US, and countries in Western Europe.
A total of 455 individuals in Thailand were officially identified as trafficked persons in 2017. However, the real scale of the problem remains uncertain as there are no reliable estimates on the sheer magnitude of the situation.In 2018, Thailand was upgraded to Tier 2 by the US Department of State as the Thai Government has demonstrated increasing efforts to combat the problem. In early 2018, the Royal Thai Police (RTP) established the Thailand Anti-Trafficking in Persons Task Force (TATIP), composed of law enforcement, social workers, and NGOs, to increase coordination of sex and labor trafficking law enforcement efforts. The RTP has also increased the number of personnel assigned to the Thai Internet Crimes Against Children Task Force (TICAC), which investigated internet-facilitated child sex trafficking. The government-funded trainings focused on anti-trafficking laws for more than 2,600 police, prosecutors, and other law enforcement officials. Following the adoption of the Beggar Control Act in 2016, the government had increased efforts to investigate forced and child begging. It had also increased efforts to raise public awareness to the dangers of human trafficking and to deny entry to foreign sex tourists However, trafficking-related corruption continues to hinder progress in combating trafficking. Poor enforcement and coordination among regulatory agencies enabled exploitative labor practices to continue.
The 2019 IOM report notes that important steps have been taken by the Royal Thai Government to combat human trafficking and exploitative working conditions for migrants, including reforms to the laws and regulatory bodies used to manage the fisheries sector, amendment of the Royal Ordinance on the Management of Foreign Workers Employment, establishment of Migrant Worker Assistance Centres, and ratification of the 2014 Protocol to the Forced Labour Convention, 1930 (No. 29). Unfortunately, the implementation of these laws is still far from satisfactory. Radical changes in private sector business practices are necessary which must be accompanied by meaningful oversight and effective action by the Thai Government, trade unions, civil society, media and consumers if the plight of the vulnerable people on the move is to be addressed.
There are several other laws which criminalise human trafficking activities and migration offences such as the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act (B.E. 2551 / 2008), Labour Protection Act (2008), Child Protection Act (2003), Anti-Money Laundering Act (1999), Penal Code Amendment Act (1997), Criminal Procedure Amendment Act (1997), Prevention and Suppression of Prostitution Act (1996), Amendments to the Securities and Exchange Act (1992), and Immigration Act (1979). These laws allow for severe penalties for individuals found guilty of charges relating to prostitution, exploitative labour, forced begging and other inhumane acts. Thailand has also instituted Key legal instruments, agreements and guidelines with neighbouring countries like Myanmar, Vietnam. Laos, Cambodia which relate to anti-trafficking in Thailand. These National memoranda of understanding contain common guidelines for government, and non government counter trafficking organisations in Thailand on how to work together to combat human trafficking contain the operational procedures for victim rescue and assistance
The Key Government Ministry responsible is the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security (MSDHS). This is the lead government agency for counter-trafficking responsible for coordinating the work of other agencies and providing victim support. Others include Ministry of Labour (MOL) which monitors workplace and labour standards to ensure compliance with Thai labour laws, and also registration of migrant workers, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Department of Consular Affairs, Thai embassies and diplomatic missions abroad which provides assistance and support to Thai people who have been trafficked abroad, Ministry of Tourism and Sports (MOTS), which counters sexual exploitation in the tourism industry, Department of Special Investigation (DSI) under the Ministry of Justice (MOJ) which investigates human trafficking cases and pursuing those deemed as ‘special cases’, Ministry of Education (MOE) which is responsible for anti-human trafficking advocacy, awareness raising campaigns and preventative measures. The Royal Thai Police (RTP) is responsible for law enforcement and bringing offenders to justice while The Office of the Attorney General (OAG) is an independent government agency responsible for prosecuting human trafficking cases.
To combat Human Trafficking different UN agencies are running projects:
The International Organization for Migration (IOM) is the Chair of the UN Thailand Migration Group which comprises members from FAO, IOM, ILO, OHCHR, UN-ACT, UNAIDS, UNCDF, UNDP, UNESCO, UNFPA, UNHCR, UNICEF, UNODC, UN Women and WHO.)
The Catholic Church in Thailand has deepened its commitment to accompany vulnerable people on the move. Caritas Thailand and the Thai Catholic Church are active partners working alongside with Catholic religious (Good Shepherd and the Jesuits) congregations, CSOs and other sectors, acting for the good of vulnerable people on the move. Caritas Thailand is the body responsible for the social action of the Thai Catholic Church under the Catholic Bishops’ Conference of Thailand (CBCT). It is also the vehicle of the Catholic Church to work with migrants and refugees. Formerly known as the Catholic Commission for Human Development, Caritas Thailand was founded in 1972 to carry out the Church’s holistic human development work. The Catholic Office for Emergency Relief & Refugees, (COERR) is part of Caritas Thailand. Some of their programs include caring for the 120,000 Karen and other minority groups who live in nine camps in Thailand, strung along the border. They provide education for the children and run livelihood training to equip the refugees with living skills when they are repatriated back to their home country.
JRS Thailand provides educational, emergency, health, and pastoral support to refugees and asylum seekers living in both camps and urban areas. In Bangkok, JRS Thailand works with
urban refugees and asylum seekers, providing financial support and educational training. The Urban Refugee Project (URP) and Urban Education Project (UEP) provides skill building opportunities, casework and psychosocial services. They supply basic needs such as housing, food, medical care and transport by providing financial assistance. At the border, JRS educational programmes also provide opportunities and pastoral accompaniment to migrant children from Myanmar.
The Good Shepherd congregation is also active in caring for vulnerable people who are trafficked. They run centres in Pattaya, Chiang Rai, Phuket and in Chieng Mai caring for vulnerable youths, pregnant and vulnerable migrant women and children. They also run a skills training centre for women and girls exploited by the tourism industry.
The fluidity in migration patterns has greatly impacted the socio-economic, cultural and political situations in Thailand. It is a sign of hope that the Catholic Church in Thailand has deepened its commitment to accompany vulnerable people on the move. However, there is still a great need to create more awareness of their plight and provide pastoral care especially at diocesan, parish and grassroot levels. The Church is encouraged to deepen her commitment, dialogue, networking and collaboration with Government, CSOs, FBOs and all stakeholders involved to provide more life giving care, support and advocate for the many vulnerable groups of people on the move.