Thai police is suspected of trying to boost the number of trafficking arrest it makes in order to enhance the global image of Thailand, but an equally high number of these cases are being dismissed by the country’s prosecutor.
This revelation is being made in a soon-to-be-released government reports that shows almost twenty percent of trafficking cases are not what it appears to be.
Reported exclusively by the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the 79-page report, drafted to inform an annual U.S. report ranking countries on their efforts to combat trafficking, showed Thailand’s public prosecutors rejected 64 of 364 cases in 2019.
Thailand has faced criticism in recent years for failing to stop trafficking in its lucrative textile and seafood sectors, as well as the sex trade. The country secured 194 trafficking convictions last year, down 17% from 2018, the report found.
Most of the cases dismissed last year involved smuggled migrants being misidentified as trafficking victims, according to two prosecutors who said police had been told to increase trafficking figures amid concerns about the dwindling number.
“In practice, (most) of the police know that the cases involve smuggling, but they receive orders to treat them as human trafficking offences,” one public prosecutor said on condition of anonymity because of the sensitivity of the matter.
“This is perhaps due to the lack of clear understanding on the differences between trafficking and smuggling of migrants.”
The percentage of trafficking cases dismissed by prosecutors hit a record 18% last year, up from 10% in 2018 and 4% in 2017.
The 64 rejected cases from 2019 were instead prosecuted under smuggling and transnational crime laws, the report said.
Police lieutenant general Jaruvat Vaisaya – the country’s top anti-trafficking cop – said officers were responding to a growing number of people being transported towards Malaysia.
Unlike trafficking, which involves deception or control over another person for the purpose of exploitation, smuggling means entering another country illegally and is considered consensual.
Lawyers and campaigners said the conflation of smuggling and trafficking meant some state resources intended for trafficking victims were being spent on migrants who had not been exploited.
A second prosecutor source said they had also heard of police officers being ordered to find more trafficking victims.
“This clearly shows that [the government]wants the highest number of cases to show that many arrests have been made,” said Adisorn Kerdmongkol, a coordinator at the Migrant Working Group.
“Human trafficking is a political issue in Thailand.”
Thailand’s anti-trafficking department – part of the social ministry – declined to respond to questions about the report, which is due to be sent to U.S. officials by the end of January. (Source: Thomson Reuters Foundation)