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US downgrades Thailand to be among worst human trafficking hubs

Legacy Phuket Gazette

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US downgrades Thailand to be among worst human trafficking hubs | The Thaiger

PHUKET MEDIA WATCH

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

Thailand downgraded to be among worst trafficking centres
The Nation / Phuket Gazette

PHUKET: The US State Department yesterday downgraded Thailand to the lowest level in its annual Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report – a move that could trigger sanctions by the United States.

After years of warnings, the US dumped Thailand, Malaysia and Venezuela at the bottom of a list of countries accused of failing to tackle modern-day slavery, AFP reported from Washington.

Thailand had been on Tier 2 watchlist for four years for poor law enforcement before it dropped to the lowest rung – Tier 3.

The three countries, plus Gambia, found themselves added to a nations such as Iran, North Korea and Syria, which have already been languishing on the lowest tier of the State Department’s annual report into human trafficking.

“We each have a responsibility to make this horrific and all-too-common crime a lot less common,” US Secretary of State John Kerry wrote in the 2014 TIP report, denouncing what he called “the evil of human trafficking”.

Tens of thousands of the world’s trafficking victims end up in Thailand as migrants from neighbouring countries “who are forced, coerced, or defrauded into labour or exploited in the sex trade”, the report said. The TIP survey was carried out before the military coup.

“Anti-trafficking law enforcement efforts remained insufficient compared with the size of the problem in Thailand, and corruption at all levels hampered the success of these efforts,” the report said.

Earlier yesterday, the Commerce Ministry set up a working panel on trade and labour to increase efficiency in solving labour and related trade problems. Srirat Rasrapana, permanent secretary at the ministry, said the panel was made up of representatives from government, plus the public and private sectors.

“All sectors are waiting for the US [anti-trafficking] report. Thailand will move forward to solve labour problems no matter what the report comes out with. The committee will be a deep trilateral collaboration and will show Thailand’s seriousness in resolving the [people smuggling] problem,” he said.

The new working committee will raise efficiency in countering illegal labour and clearly communicate its unity with the international community in doing this. The panel will also support the work of the National Council for Peace and Order’s committee on illegal migrant workers.

Srirat said the Thai government and private enterprises had continuously worked on labour problems.

The ministry had also assigned Thai trade representatives in Washington DC and Brussels, as well as trading partners to send clear letters of explanation to increase understanding about its efforts to solve labour problems.

The ministry also expects that the US will keep Thailand at the same level when it unveils its Worst Form of Child Labour report in September this year. Thailand is considering proposing to the US that five Thai products be withdrawn from exports because producers here allegedly use child or forced labour.

The five products are shrimp, garments, sugarcane, pornography, and fish. The proposal will proceed in August.

In a bid to alert Thai enterprises about issues of social concern, Srirat warned that the EU had serious environmental concerns over unregulated fishing, timber regulations, emissions trading and the greenhouse effect (global warming).

Junta chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha said last night that concern about a possible downgrade led to the junta’s ongoing moves against illegal labour. He said this aimed at improving Thailand’s image on the international stage in regard to human rights and labour.

Prayuth made the remark during the live broadcast of his weekly TV programme “Returning Happiness to the People”.

He blamed criminal gangs preying on migrant workers for the rumour that the military was brutally cracking down on foreign labourers, particularly those from Cambodia. The rumour led to an exodus of over 100,000 Cambodian workers. He said those gangs could make more money smuggling the illegal labourers back to Thailand.

Meanwhile, Democrat Party leader Abhisit Vejjajiva said yesterday that the downgrade would hurt Thai exports, as there could be punitive measures by other countries. He spoke after meeting US Ambassador Kristie Kenney at the party’s headquarters. Abhisit called on the envoy to help create mutual understanding in order to ensure good mutual ties.

— Phuket Gazette Editors

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Expats

Opinion: Retirees and medical insurance in Thailand

The Thaiger

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Opinion: Retirees and medical insurance in Thailand | The Thaiger

By Barry Kenyon of The Pattaya Mail

Thai government spokespeople, in recent years, have emphasised that that Thai hospitals are not free for foreigners. They have cited examples of sick and crowd-funded aliens desperate to get back to their home countries, or annual reports from public hospitals bemoaning the unpaid bills of foreign nationals.

So far not a lot has happened. Holders of one year 0/A visas or ten year 0/X, issued by Thai consulates and embassies abroad, do now require medical insurance worth at least 400,000 baht for in-patient treatment and 40,000 baht for out-patient care. But the vast majority of expat retirees in Thailand receive their annual extensions of stay at a Thai immigration office. They do not currently require insurance.

Will that change? It’s not clear. The government has already stated that long-stay aliens with a history of physical illness may be checked out before an extension of stay is granted. What this means, if anything, is unclear but it could signify the immigration bureau’s refusal if an applicant is discovered to have unpaid hospital bills.

One substantial reason for leaving well alone is that many expat retirees self-insure because they are too old or infirm to obtain medical insurance. But these wealthier retirees contribute billions of baht annually to (mostly) private hospital coffers when significant surgery is required. They would be forced out of the country if unobtainable medical cover was made compulsory, thus leading to a gigantic loss of income.

It’s also true that the mandatory insurance requirement for 0/A visa holders is modest. A sum of 400,000 baht may seem a lot but is unlikely to cover the total bill for heart surgery, most cancer operations and stays in an intensive care unit, at any rate in the private sector.

Read the rest of the editorial HERE.

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Coronation

Indian tourist numbers to Thailand steadily climbing

The Thaiger & The Nation

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Indian tourist numbers to Thailand steadily climbing | The Thaiger

The number of Indian tourists coming to Thailand has doubled over the past half a decade and continues to grow by an average of 15% each year. The figures are from a survey conducted by researchers Nutchanart Kuprasert and Jidapha Chuayphan on behalf of the Bank of Thailand.

Contributing factors include an overall increase in Indians travelling overseas as evidenced by 10 million new passports being issued annually. Thailand is a popular choice for first-time Indian tourists as distances are short and travel is easy thanks to some 3,000 direct flights now being offered by various carriers between both main and secondary destinations including to Phuket plus the introduction of free visa-on-arrival.

The study indicates that Indian tourist will keep catching up to the leading tourist demographic, the Chinese , but not surpass them any time soon. Projections for the next decade show that some 21 million Chinese tourists will visit Thailand compared to 14 million Indian nationals. But in terms of spending, Indian tourists are similar strong spenders, like the Chinese, and able to travel to Thailand all year round, even during the low season.

Popular destinations are listed as Bangkok, Pattaya, Phuket, Hua Hin and Chiang Mai. In addition, information from tour operators in Thailand reveals that Indian tourists are not as sensitive as Chinese tourists to unexpected events. Generally speaking, if the trip has been planned in advance, they will not change plans or cancel travel.

Indian tourist numbers to Thailand steadily climbing | News by The Thaiger

The report divides Indian tourists who enter Thailand into 3 main groups…

• Tourism for vacation accounts for 85%. Most visitors are between the ages of 25 and 35, prefer to travel with friends or come here for a honeymoon because the cost is not high. They spend an average of 27,000 baht per person and favour the country as they can get a visa on arrival. Some groups use Thailand as a base for visiting other countries.

• Weddings account for 5% of visitors, mostly amongst the well-heeled. The data show that more than 300 Indian come to get married in Thailand every year often with wedding parties exceeding 200 guests. In India, luxury events such as weddings are a show of family status, and the budget ranges from 10 million to 120 million baht per event. Couples favour 15 well-known 5-star hotels and the average spending per person is 50,000 baht.

• MICE (Meetings, Incentives, Conferences, Exhibitions) groups or group meetings account for 10%, with many large companies choosing Thailand as an incentive destination. These popularly travel in large groups of around 800 people and are likely to visit Thailand on multiple occasions. The average spent per person per time is 76,000 baht. Thai business tour operators indicate that some groups request specific travel programs in Pattaya, ask for entertainment venues and request hotels that allow outsiders to stay.

The study shows that seminar tourist groups and marriage groups spend the most and recommends that Thailand focuses on attracting these visitors while also paying attention to maintaining the millennial tourist base because India has a large young population. However, it also points to a need to modify Thailand’s image as a cheap place to stay and erase its reputation as a ‘sex’ destination.

SOURCE: The Nation

Indian tourist numbers to Thailand steadily climbing | News by The Thaiger

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Politics

Future Forward’s Thanathorn in court over alleged media share holdings

The Thaiger

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Future Forward’s Thanathorn in court over alleged media share holdings | The Thaiger

The charismatic frontman of Thailand’s anti-military parliamentary bloc appeared in court today accused of breaching election rules by holding media shares. The case could see him barred from politics and jailed for up to 10 years.

40 year old Thai billionaire Thanathorn Juangroongruangkit has rattled Thailand’s arch-royalist establishment since seizing the political limelight with his caustic take downs of the army’s role in Thai politics and society. His upstart Future Forward Party, formed only 12 months before this year’s March elections, became Thailand’s third largest political group in the poll which ended five years of outright junta rule. They ended up with more votes than the older, more established Democrats, surprising many, particularly the Military-backed Palang Pracharat party.

The party was backed by millions of young people wearied by the dominance of the conservative old guard. But Thanathorn’s electoral success has been matched by a battery of legal woes.

He has been suspended from attending parliament since the Election Commission accused him of breaking polling laws by holding media shares – an offence that carries a long jail term.

Arriving for the first hearing at the Constitutional Court on Friday, Thanathorn again pleaded his “innocence” telling reporters the media company had ceased operations five months before the election.

“We are convinced that there is no evidence.”

Thanathorn, who held 675,000 shares in V-Luck Media, has repeatedly insisted they were sold to his mother on January 8, weeks before he registered to run as a candidate.

As judges fired questions at him during today’s hearing, the usually cool-headed party leader appeared tense, saying he couldn’t recall the legal details of divesting the shares. His supporters say the case has been trumped up to take out Thailand’s most popular politician and deliver a gut punch to the FFP and its radical reform agenda.

The party wants to amend the constitution to excise the military’s influence, slash defence spending and end conscription to an army that has carried out a coup at an average of once every seven years since the 1932 establishment of a constitutional monarchy.

“The party is against the military… I support their vision and I absolutely support Mr Thanathorn,” 35 year old Punjarat Wattawongvibul old AFP outside the court.

A ruling is expected to be announced on November 20.

The highly interventionist court disbanded a different anti-military opposition party linked to former premier Thaksin Shinawatra right before the March elections. Thanathorn has also been singled out by the kingdom’s powerful army chief.

The Thai Army Chief General Apirat Kongsompong last week delivered a thinly-veiled warning of the spectre of a communist rebellion in a speech flecked with barely-concealed references to Thanathorn and his party.

Future Forward have been a rare voice of criticism against Thailand’s royalist establishment.

The monarchy remains at the apex of Thailand as the Head of State.

Yesterday 70 Future Forward MPs voted against a royal decree transferring two key army units to the direct control of the Thai King, an unprecedented political objection to a royal command.

The decree still passed parliament with an overwhelming majority.

SOURCE: Agence France-Presse

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