Tuesday, March 21, 2023

Foreign Nationals Are Victims Of Human Trafficking In “Wa” And “Kokang” Regions

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Some people took the tracks through mountains while some crossed the rivers to get into Myanmar. These migrants are Thai nationals who have illegally crossed the border from Mae Sai (Thailand) to Tachileik (Myanmar), intending to seek better job opportunities.


According to Sai Kawn, the migrants smuggled their way, paying bribes at the checkpoints, from Tachilake to Mong Pawk in different vehicles.

Mong Pawk in Wa region
Mong Pawk in Wa region.

Sai Kawn explained, “Thai nationals have crossed into Tachileik through different illegal crossings from Mae Sai. For instance, some crossed the river while some walked through mountains. From Tachileik, with the arrangement of brokers/agents, the migrants are smuggled to Mong Pawk, in vehicles. At the checkpoints, they either get a pass by paying a bribe at the checkpoints or walking past the checkpoints” (meaning the people getting off vehicles and walking through forests or paths to avoid the checkpoints).

On their road to Mong Pawk, each vehicle has to pay around 200,000 Myanmar Kyat at the checkpoints set up by SAC/Myanmar military.

Military regime check point at the border
Military regime check point at the border.

Mong Pawk is under the control of The United Wa State Army (UWSA).

Sai Kawn is working with Alliance Anti Trafic (AAT), a non-profit organization with the aim to help and support victims of human trafficking on the borders of Thailand, Myanmar and China.

He also mentioned a case in which AAT helped rescue three women who were being trafficked as they were working in Mong Pawk, back in November in 2022.

The victims accommodation area
The victims accommodation area.

“Last month as well I helped rescue three human trafficking victims, who are Thai nationals. They reached Mong Pawk in April (2022). The rescue mission was not easy, and it took us about 4-5 months. As I am speaking, many victims are still trapped in the area and we are providing some support to them” added Sai Kawn.

He made a remark that, up to the present days in Shan State there still remain foreigners who have been victimized by human traffickers.

In July 2022 as well, four Vietnamese were arrested on Kyaing Tong-Mong Kat road, on their way from Pangsang/Pangkham, the principal city of Wa Special Region (2). The four Vietnamese entered Myanmar (to Tachileik) from Laos. From Tachileik they smuggled their way to Pangsang, where they were working for a year. They got arrested on their way back from Pangsang to Tachileik.

After the military Coup, not only Myanmar nationals but also Thai nationalities are increasingly being victimized by human trafficking. Especially in the Thai-Myanmar (Shan State) border areas, such as Muse District, Tachilake District, and “Wa” region, which are areas with a significant surge in illicit activities such as gambling, human trafficking, and drugs after the Coup.

The victims working place
The victims working place.

Sai Kawn added that “There are around a hundred Thai nationals who crossed the border to work at the online gaming industries in Myawaddy and Tachileik. And about 10% of them become the victims of human trafficking”.

The COVID-19 pandemic has left many Thai and Myanmar nationals jobless. As a consequence, the number of job seekers at the online casinos industries in border areas has surged. Majority of trafficking victims amongst Thai nationals are women, but some young men are also being targeted.

“Women are the primary target of trafficking amongst Thai nationals. But both men and women of Myanmar nationalities are almost equally subjected to being trafficked. Most of the men are being sold at the casinos; while women are sold into the prostitution industry” said Sai Kawn.

Most of the human trafficking and smuggling activities are taking place at border areas, most of which are under the control of (ethnic) armed actors. Hence, it is challenging for civil society organizations to deliver their protection and support in these areas.

Likewise, in April 2022; the Thai PBS (Thai Public Broadcasting Service) reported that 17 Thai women were lured by online job offers/scams and ended up being trafficked in Muse district and Kokang region, in Shan State.

The job advertisements posted online and social media normally offer PR (public relations) positions at the KTVs (Karaoke Bars). The advertised roles involve tending to the customers_ such as pouring alcohol, chatting, and signing. However, when they really reach the area they are put into sexual entertainment, according to those who managed to escape.

The job advertisements offer an alluring salary ranging from 200,000 to 250,000 Thai baht per month, with the roles to simply welcome the customers at the casinos.

Sai Kwan, who has been involved in rescuing the victims of human trafficking, explained the situation that ” the online job ads would normally offer ordinary non-sex works and entertainment, such as pouring alcohol and singing at the Karaoke bars. But when the victims really get there, they are also forced to provide sexual entertainment as the client requests”.

Thai women are being smuggled and sold to different brokers to finally reach China-Myanmar border town Laukkai.

“The victims are being transferred and sold to different brokers on their way. First, they would get smuggled from Tachileik to Mong La, after that they are sold to another broker at Mong Pawk. From there they are sent to Laukkai” added Sai Kwan.

Sai Kawn who is a staff at AAT warned and urged the young people to be cautious and to not only look at the alluring payment and seek jobs at the borders, as online scamming and fraud have increased.

Mong Pawk is filled with criminal networks and companies that are associated with the Chinese. Many young people from Hsipaw, Kyaukme, including those from Yangon are going to the Mong Pawk to seek job opportunities. Last month there was an incident where around 30 young people were being trafficked.

The entrance of Wa region check point
The entrance of Wa region check point.

“Within the past four months, there have been constantly reported cases, in which people from Hsipaw (Shan State) seeking jobs at “Wa” region have become the victims of human trafficking. Still people, most of whom are women and young people, risk seeking job opportunities in those areas since sources of income have become limited” said a woman from Hsipaw town.

A job-scarcity due to the impact of COVID-19 and political turmoil has caused young people to desperately look for job opportunities but many of them end up at fraud and scams work in the “Wa” region. This has led to the surge in human trafficking, added a woman from Hsipaw.

“Job announcements posted online mostly offer Kyar Pyant works, which most of the young people think are to engage in ordinary works such as masonry works. But when they reach the area things are not as they expected. And in a time like this, we cannot report the cases and seek for help from anyone (authorities)” a woman further explained the situation facing Hsipaw.

After the military-coup, the law enforcement deteriorated, allowing illegal and criminal activities to operate freely. There have been so far no actions taken by the current SAC regime against surging illicit activities such as gambling, narcotics and human trafficking.

Human trafficking route in Myanmar Source SIREN
Human trafficking route in Myanmar .Source SIREN.

The current anarchy and lawlessness in the country has led to an expansion of human trafficking, as the attention of criminal networks in the region has turned to Myanmar.

The UWSA has also been making an effort to prevent human trafficking activities currently taking place in the “Wa ” region. The organization has also been addressing the cases that have been reported, such as cracking down the activities and rescuing the victims, according to U Nyi Yang, a liaison officer stationed in Lashio.

“We have been responding to complaints and requests, by helping to rescue and supporting the victims. Arrests are also being made,” stated U Nyi Yang.

Due to reports of increased human trafficking in the “Wa” region, human rights activists are also urging the “Wa” authorities to speed up their efforts to combat human trafficking.

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