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Special Report: Flaws hinder Thailand’s human-trafficking crackdown

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

– Thailand news selected by Gazette editors for Phuket’s international community

Special Report: Flaws hinder Thailand’s human-trafficking crackdown
Reuters / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: After a two-hour trek through swamp and jungle, Police Major General Thatchai Pitaneelaboot halts in a trash-strewn clearing near Thailand’s remote border with Malaysia.

“This is it,” he says, surveying the remains of a deserted camp on a hillside pressed flat by the weight of human bodies.

Just weeks before, says Thatchai, hundreds of Rohingya Muslim refugees from Myanmar were held captive here by one of the shadowy gangs who have turned southern Thailand into a human-trafficking superhighway.

With Thatchai’s help, Thailand is scrambling to show it is combating the problem. It aims to avoid a downgrade in an influential U.S. State Department annual report that ranks countries on their anti-trafficking efforts.

But a Reuters examination of that effort exposes deep problems in how Thailand defines human trafficking, exemplified by its failure to publicly recognize the lucrative trafficking of thousands of Rohingya confirmed in Reuters investigations published in July and December.

In March, Thailand submitted a 78-page report on its trafficking record for 2013 to the State Department. Thai officials provided a copy to Reuters. In the report, Thailand includes no Rohingya in its tally of trafficked persons.

“We have not found that the Rohingya are victims of human trafficking,” the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs said in a statement. “In essence, the Rohingya question is an issue of human smuggling.”

The distinction between smuggling and trafficking is critical to Thailand’s assertion. Smuggling, done with the consent of those involved, differs from trafficking, the business of trapping people by force or deception into labour or prostitution.

A two-part Reuters investigation in three countries, based on interviews with people smugglers, human traffickers and Rohingya who survived boat voyages from Myanmar, last year showed how the treatment of Rohingya often constituted trafficking. Reporters found that hundreds were held against their will in brutal trafficking camps in the Thai wilderness (story here).

A record 40,000 Rohingya passed through the camps in 2013, according to Chris Lewa, director of Arakan Project, a humanitarian group.

The Rohingya’s accelerating exodus is a sign of Muslim desperation in Buddhist-majority Myanmar, also known as Burma. Ethnic and religious tensions simmered during 49 years of military rule. But under the reformist government that took power in March 2011, Myanmar has endured its worst communal bloodshed in generations.

After arriving by boat to Thailand, criminal networks transport Rohingya mainly into neighbouring Malaysia, a Muslim-majority country viewed by Rohingya as a haven from persecution. Many are held by guards with guns and beaten until they produce money for passage across the Thai border, usually about $2,000 each – a huge sum for one of the world’s most impoverished peoples.

Thailand faces an automatic downgrade to Tier 3, the lowest rank in the U.S. government’s Trafficking In Persons (TIP) Report, unless it makes “significant efforts” to improve its record, according to the State Department. The agency is expected to release its findings in June.

Grievous rights abuses

A Tier 3 designation would put Thailand alongside North Korea and the Central African Republic as the world’s worst centres of human trafficking, and would expose Thailand to U.S. sanctions.

If Thailand is downgraded, the United States, in practice, is unlikely to sanction the country, one of its oldest treaty allies in Asia. But to be downgraded would be a major embarrassment to Thailand, which is now lobbying hard for a non-permanent position on the United Nations Security Council.

Reuters asked New York-based Human Rights Watch to review the report that Thailand recently submitted to the State Department. The watchdog group, which monitors trafficking and other abuses globally, said it was concerned that two-thirds of the trafficking victims cited in the report were Thai nationals.

“Any examination of trafficking in Thailand shows that migrants from neighbouring countries are the ones most trafficked,” said Brad Adams, the group’s Asia director. “Yet Thailand’s identification statistics show far more Thais than migrants are found as victims.”

He added that the numbers were also flawed due to the absence of Rohingya among the list of trafficking victims. Thailand failed to recognize “the grievous rights abuses the Rohingya suffer in these jungle camps, and the fundamental failures of the Thai government to do much about it.”

The State Department said it is examining Thailand’s submission. “We have received the information from the Thai government, and it is currently under review,” Ambassador at-Large Luis CdeBaca of the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons said in a statement to Reuters.

Plight of the Rohingya

The next TIP Report will appraise Thailand’s anti-trafficking efforts in 2013.

That year ended with the State Department and the United Nations calling for investigations into the findings of a December 5 report by Reuters. That article asserts a secret Thai policy to remove Rohingya refugees from Thailand’s immigration detention centres and deliver them to human traffickers waiting at sea.

Thailand made “significant progress” in combating human trafficking in 2013, said its foreign ministry, citing data included in the recent 78-page report Bangkok submitted to the State Department.

According to the Thai report, Thailand convicted 225 people for human trafficking in 2013, compared to 49 people in 2012. (According to the State Department, Thailand convicted only 10 people in 2012.)

The report says Thailand identified 1,020 trafficking victims in 2013, compared to 592 in 2012, and almost doubled the government’s anti-trafficking budget to 235 million baht ($7.3 million).

It identified victims by nationality, counting 141 people from Myanmar among the victims. But none were Rohingya, who are mostly stateless. The Myanmar government calls the Rohingya illegal “Bengali” migrants from Bangladesh. Most of the 1.1 million Rohingya living in Myanmar’s western Rakhine State are denied citizenship.

In January 2013, said the Thai report, more than 400 Rohingya illegal migrants were found in rubber plantations near the Thai-Malay border in Thailand’s Songkhla province. Seven Thai suspects were arrested and charged with smuggling and harbouring of illegal migrants, and were later convicted.

The Thai report describes this group of Rohingya as being smuggled, not trafficked.

However, the Reuters article in December references documents suggestive of a Thai policy to remove those Rohingya from immigration detention centres and deliver them to human traffickers and smugglers waiting at sea. Many Rohingya were then ferried back to brutal trafficking camps in Thailand, where some died, the article reports.

The official Thai report says the government “has made every effort to suppress the smuggling of Rohingyas over the years and to reduce the risk of Rohingyas being exploited by transnational trafficking syndicates.”

“The plight of the Rohingyas who left their homeland is essentially one of

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Coronavirus (Covid-19)

TAT announces update to compulsory Covid-19 insurance for foreign visitors

The Thaiger

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TAT announces update to compulsory Covid-19 insurance for foreign visitors | The Thaiger

The Tourism Authority of Thailand has announced today an update about compulsory Covid-19 insurance. They say it’s now “conveniently” available online in a one-stop-shop. Up to now the compulsory Covid-19 insurance, a pre-requisite before foreigners can come to Thailand, under any visa, was through selected insurance providers at their own websites. The Thailand Office of Insurance Commission has allowed the review of its policy, making it easier to find and purchase the compulsory insurance.

“Foreign travellers will enjoy the following advantages of purchasing an OIC-endorsed medical insurance policy, which is available online HERE.”

The update provides additional clarity and ease for people looking to travel to Thailand at this time.

“The Tourism Authority of Thailand is pleased to share the latest announcement that foreign visitors will be able to purchase compulsory Covid-19 insurance policy online prior to visiting the Kingdom.”

TAT Governor, Yuthasak Supasorn says the compulsory insurance is part of any package of documents that will need to be completed by foreigners entering Thailand at this time.

“A medical insurance policy with at least US$100,000 coverage or about 3.16 million baht for possible Covid-19 treatment is among the official documents required from foreign visitors planning to visit Thailand.”

“TAT hopes the Covid-19 insurance protection program, under the regulation of the OIC, offers additional peace-of-mind for foreign visitors and hopefully makes it easier for inbound travellers before departing from their country of origin.”

TAT announces update to compulsory Covid-19 insurance for foreign visitors | News by The Thaiger

The Thai General Association and the Thai Life Assurance Association, plus 16 leading and non-life insurance companies in Thailand are partnering together with the oversight according to regulations from the OIC to offer the Covid-19 insurance protection program to foreign visitors.

  • The insurance policy has been approved by the Thai government and can be used in the Thai visa application process. Coverage begins immediately upon arrival in Thailand.
  • No need for advance payment or out-of-pocket expenses when admitted at private hospitals nationwide. Insurance coverage does not exceed US$100,000 or about 3.16 million Baht.
  • In the case of death from Covid-19 infection, the insurance company will provide a life insurance benefit of USD $100,000 or about 3.16 million Baht to the beneficiary.
  • The insurance premium cost is reasonable, the process is overseen by the OIC, and purchase can be done efficiently online.
  • Thailand’s public health infrastructure and healthcare facilities, as well as healthcare professionals are recognised as some of the best in Asia for treating infectious diseases.

Here’s an example of some of the costs for packages that vary from 30 days to 1 year. The premiums range from 1,600-4,800 Baht for 30 days of coverage; from 2,880-8,640 Baht for 60 days; from 3,840 – 12,160 Baht for 90 days; from 7,680 – 23,040 Baht for 120 days, and from 14,400 – 43,200 Baht for one year.

The Thaiger recommends that, before you make any other travel arrangements about a trip to Thailand, including the booking os flights or ASQ hotels, you should make general enquiries at the Thai Embassy or Consulate-General in your country.

SOURCE: TAT

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World

The World’s 50 Best Foods… Thai massaman curry tops the list

Maya Taylor

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The World’s 50 Best Foods… Thai massaman curry tops the list | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Young Sok Yun on Flickr

The humble Thai massaman curry has topped a list of the World’s 50 Best Foods, compiled by the CNN Travel team. Thailand’s smooth coconut milk and potato-based curry (add meat, tofu or vegetables of your choice) comes in at Number 1, with 2 other popular Thai dishes also making it into the World’s Best food list.

The hot and spicy shrimp/prawn soup, Tom Yum Goong, comes in at Number 8, with papaya salad, aka somtam, in 46th place (mai phet please!) Tell us your favourite Thai dish, and why, in the comments section (below).

CNN Travel says its staff conducted extensive research on global cuisine to find the 50 best dishes ever created. Nice work if you can get it…

Italian pizza, Mexican chocolate, Japanese sushi, Chinese Peking duck, Penang Assam laksa, Malaysia and German Hamburger also top the delicious list.

Here’s what the writers had to say about the 3 Thai dishes that made the top taste grade…

First Place, Massaman curryEmphatically the king of curries, and perhaps the king of all foods. Spicy, coconutty, sweet and savoury. Even the packet sauce you buy from the supermarket can make the most delinquent of cooks look like a Michelin potential. Thankfully, someone invented rice, with which diners can mop up the last drizzles of curry sauce. “The Land of Smiles” isn’t just a marketing catch-line. It’s a result of being born in a land where the world’s most delicious food is sold on nearly every street corner.

Eighth Place, Tom Yum Kung

This best food Thai masterpiece teems with shrimp, mushrooms, tomatoes, lemongrass, galangal and kaffir lime leaves. Usually loaded with coconut milk and cream, the hearty soup unifies a host of favourite Thai tastes: sour, salty, spicy and sweet. Best of all is the price: cheap.

The World’s 50 Best Foods... Thai massaman curry tops the list | News by The Thaiger

PHOTO: Richard Lee on Flickr

46th Place, Som Tam/Papaya salad

To prepare Thailand’s most famous salad, pound garlic and chilies with a mortar and pestle. Toss in tamarind juice, fish sauce, peanuts, dried shrimp, tomatoes, lime juice, sugar cane paste, string beans and a handful of grated green papaya. Grab a side of sticky rice. Variations include those made with crab (som tam pu) and fermented fish sauce (som tam pla ra), but none matches the flavour and simple beauty of the original.

The World’s 50 Best Foods... Thai massaman curry tops the list | News by The Thaiger

PHOTO: www.needpix.com

SOURCE: Thai Residents | CNN Travel

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Protests

Preparations for the emergency session of the Thai Parliament

The Thaiger

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Preparations for the emergency session of the Thai Parliament | The Thaiger
PHOTO: Protesters display the 3 finger salute in the lead up to next Monday's emergency sessions of parliament - Associate Press

The Thai Parliament is getting ready for an extraordinary session called by the Lower House Speaker to debate the current impasse between the protester’s demands and the PM and government. The session will be held on Monday and Tuesday. But even before the emergency session begins, government and opposition parliamentarians cannot decide on the terms of the debate.

Parliament president and lower house speaker, veteran Chuan Leekpai, hosted a meeting yesterday in preparation for the “extraordinary joint session” which will run over 2 days. He says the session will debate “ways to defuse the ongoing political crisis”. The debates will involve both houses of parliament, constituting the elected MPs of the lower house and the hand-picked, unelected Senators of the upper house. The preparatory meeting included members of cabinet, government coalition parties, opposition and the upper house.

Outside of the unfinished Thai parliamentary building, police and security officials were preparing for expected return of protests and a large turnout for the next round of political rallies. The protesters have already made this Sunday night the deadline for the Thai PM to resign, having already decided to co-operate with the PM after his Wednesday night request for the protesters to “stand down’ pending parliamentary discussions.

It’s unlikely the PM will meet this deadline and will participate in the 2 day emergency session.

The 2-day special session is being held under Section 165 of the 2017 Thai constitution which states “the government can request a joint House-Senate sitting for a general debate”. The next scheduled session of parliament was November 1.

But even the terms of the motion for the emergency session is causing debate before the doors even open for the emergency session. Opposition parties are demanding that their be the opportunity for a substantive vote following the session so that some concrete progress can be made to diffuse the current political crisis.

“We may refuse to be involved in the debates unless there is an opportunity to vote on the motions.”

Sutin Klungsang, opposition whip from the Pheu Thai Party, says unless the topics covered actually address the protesters demands, there is little use in turning up to the sessions.

The Move Forward Party’s (including remnants of the disbanded Future Forward party) Chaithawat Tulathon, says there must be a motion which includes the protesters’ key demands… that PM Prayut Chan-o-cha resign, a new constitution be written and the role of the Tha monarchy be limited and codified.

“Parliament should serve as an example in discussing sensitive issues in an appropriate and mature manner.”

SOURCE: Bangkok Post | Reuters | Nation Thailand

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