Sunday, July 21, 2024

Beware of Sexual Exploitation Risks While Working in Foreign Lands

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One afternoon, Sai Pa (real name altered), a person who helps job seekers, went to Nang Nang’s employer’s house. Sai Pa lied during this visit, claiming that “Nang Nang’s aunt would like to meet her.” Both Nang Nang and her employer believed this lie, so they allowed Nang Nang to leave with Sai Pa.

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Beneath the scorching heat of the sun, Nang Nang sat silently inside the car. She also experienced Sai Pa, the broker, sitting beside her, trying to touch her in a way that made her uncomfortable.

Nang Nang has been in Chiang Mai, Thailand for almost a year. She still hasn’t learned to speak Thai and doesn’t have the proper document to allow her to live and work there.

Nang Nang recounted her initial experiences upon arriving in Thailand, that “I didn’t have any official papers, so I had to do whatever the middleman told me. He also used Thai police as a threat. I lived in constant fear.”

“I felt really scared when the agent started bothering me and touching me inappropriately. I had to come up with a clever plan to escape from that situation,” Nang Nang continued. “So, I called my aunt and thankfully, I was able to get out of a situation where I almost faced harassment.”

Burmese migrant workers
Burmese migrant workers.

Nang Nang is one of those people who entered Thailand illegally as a result of the deteriorating economic and living conditions following the military coup.

She is from Southern Shan State and is barely 23 years old. Her family relies on farming for their livelihood. Unfortunately, the difficult conditions have made it hard to make ends meet through farming alone. Therefore, like many others, to search for job opportunities in Thailand in order to ensure her survival.

Individuals must pay a broker roughly 10 millions MMK (or about 15,000 THB) in order to enter Thailand illegally. A further payment of about 5000 THB is also required to obtain employment.

Nang Nang also had to pay a 5,000 THB agent fee to secure a maid job, where she worked without any days off.

“We were in a difficult situation and had no choice but to obey their orders since we were entering the country illegally. Plus, we don’t understand the Thai language, so we had to accept the job that the broker arranged for us. There’s also a rule that we can’t go outside unless they go with us,” Nang Nang explained, recalling her initial experiences upon arriving in Thailand.

Even though Nang Nang faces difficulties and the potential danger of experiencing harassment or unsafe conditions as a woman, she must bear these risks and challenges. Her motivation comes from the hope of earning a stronger currency like the Thai Baht. This income would be far more valuable due to the challenging economic conditions and high inflation rates back in Myanmar.

While Nang Nang was fortunate enough to avoid the risk of sexual harassment, many other women may not be as fortunate and may end up as victims of this harassment or even worse circumstances.

Because of the challenges with language and the absence of proper documents, the victims are denied the protection of laws, while those who cause harm and harassment remain without consequences.

With the worsening economic and political conditions in Myanmar, and the lack of job opportunities, many people have chosen to leave for nearby countries, often resorting to illegal means. Consequently, instances of people getting detained for crossing borders unlawfully have been reported by those assisting migrant workers.

Migrant workers were arrested by Thai Immigration
Migrant workers were arrested by Thai Immigration.

According to official data from the Thai government, over 80,000 individuals were arrested for illegal immigration in 2021. Moreover, from 2021 to June 2023, an estimated 100,000 unauthorized immigrants have entered Thailand.

A member of the Migrant Assistance Programme (MAP), a nonprofit organization that supports migrant workers in Thailand, Nang Ngam Yin stressed that many immigrant women experience sexual harassment and labor exploitation at the hands of employers and brokers, similar to what Nang Nang has gone through.

“Due to their sensitivity, some of the cases and reports we received were kept confidential. Some women who are working as housekeepers are being restricted from leaving. Many of them suffer from labor exploitation, and unfortunately, some even endure sexual exploitation. Additionally, there are instances that go unreported and are beyond our reach,” explained Nang Ngam Yin.

Nang Ngam Yin of MAP recommended that female immigrants and migrant workers in general, who enter Thailand should learn basic Thai language skills. In cases where proper documentation is lacking, it’s important for them to at least memorize the phone numbers and contact details of organizations that provide assistance to migrant workers in Thailand.

“If migrant workers have a basic understanding of the language, they would be less vulnerable to mistreatment and exploitation. It’s really important to have important phone numbers memorized. It’s also beneficial for individuals to familiarize themselves with Thailand’s political situation, transportation, and general information before arriving here,” Nang Ngam Yin advised.

Nang Ngam Yin also underlined the need for women planning to migrate to Thailand as workers to only contact and use as agents with people they can trust.

Burmese migrant workers were arrested by Thai force
Burmese migrant workers were arrested by Thai force.

Since the military coup, there has been a continuous flow of illegal migration to Thailand as people search for employment opportunities. Up to the present time, following the coup, it’s estimated that over 100,000 individuals have been arrested, according to someone who is with an organization assisting migrant workers from Myanmar.

The majority of individuals detained in jails and immigration detention centers in Bangkok, Rangong, and Mae Sod are those who have entered Thailand illegally from Myanmar, according to information provided by an organization assisting migrants from Myanmar.

Individuals who manage to enter the country unlawfully are often repatriated to Myanmar after facing penalties in accordance with Thailand’s legal system. Despite approximately 150 people being deported each month, the influx of illegal immigration from Myanmar remains steady, leading to a consistent population of Myanmar nationals filling the jails.

Even though it has been a year since she managed to escape the broker’s threats of sexual exploitation and harassment, Nang Nang admitted that the event still looms over her like a lingering shadow.

“I learned to be careful about trusting people. I still feel scared talking to male strangers. With the help from my aunt and relatives, I now work as a maid close to where they stay. It’s not easy to go back home now because things are tough, but I keep the courage to continue working with the thought that my relatives are nearby” Nang Nang said.

Her goal of building a small house for her parents keeps Nang Nang going, even though she faces difficulties. Nang Nang also wants to remind others who work in other countries to be cautious and not trust everyone easily.

Nang Nang’s aim is to use her earnings from working in Thailand to build a house for her parents.

Even though the future might look uncertain at the moment, many others like Nang Nang share similar dreams.They are looking forward to the day when they can return home with their dreams fulfilled.

We also have a wish that individuals like Nang Nang, who are working hard and overcoming obstacles in foreign countries, would eventually return to our home country with feelings of comfort, tranquility, and with the hope for a better future.

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