US calls on Laos to increase efforts to combat human trafficking

The U.S. State Department has called on the government of Laos to increase its efforts to combat human trafficking this year ahead of the release of its annual U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report.

The Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons Deputy Chief of Mission Shannon Farrell welcomed recent improvements in the government’s measures to end trafficking, but said more can be done to tackle the problem at an event co-chaired by the U.S. Embassy in Laos and the Lao Anti-human Trafficking Secretariat in the Lao capital Vientiane.

“Ending trafficking in persons continues to be a priority for the United States,” Deputy Chief of Mission Shannon Farrell told the Anti-Human Trafficking Secretariat at the March 17 gathering.

“Building on the responsiveness and efforts shown in the last year, I am confident that the Government of Lao PDR, together with development partners can do more in 2023 and beyond.”

The event brought Washington, D.C.-based experts from the State Department’s Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons and development partners to the capital to investigate ways to combat the issue of human trafficking, which saw a marked uptick in Laos amid high rates of unemployment during the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the 2022 U.S. Trafficking in Persons Report, the Lao government identified 110 trafficking victims throughout the country in 2021, including 30 women, 62 girls, five men, and 13 boys – a slight decrease from the 142 victims it identified in 2020. The report said that traffickers exploited the majority of those victims abroad, mostly in China and Thailand.

The State Department designated Laos a Tier 2 country for the third year in a row in 2022, as a nation whose government does not fully meet the ​​Trafficking Victims Protection Act of 2000’s minimum standards but is “making significant efforts” to bring itself into compliance.

The report cited the government’s “overall increasing efforts compared to the previous reporting period; considering the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on its anti-trafficking capacity.”

Efforts by authorities in Laos included investigating and referring to prosecutors “significantly more suspected traffickers” and training more law enforcement officers on anti-trafficking laws, conducting new awareness-raising activities in areas with high trafficking prevalence, increasing victim repatriation and implementing new oversight measures within highly vulnerable special economic zones.

However, the government failed to meet the minimum standards in several areas, including evenly applying victim identification and referral procedures when conducting health screenings for thousands of Lao migrant workers who returned from abroad during the pandemic or among workers at foreign-owned plantations, foreign-invested construction sites, or garment factories.

SEZ challenges

But Laos faces many challenges when it comes to fighting human trafficking, particularly in special economic zones, where authorities have less power to enforce such measures, sources said speaking on condition of anonymity citing security concerns.

The zones are business areas that are exempt from most national-level economic regulations, and often receive tax breaks and are governed by different labor laws. 

“Human trafficking is still rampant in Laos, especially in the SEZs, despite having an anti-human trafficking law on the books since 2016,” said one government official.

“Many Laotians and foreigners have been lured to the SEZ to work as online chatters or scammers for Chinese companies. Also, many Lao young women have been going to work as sex workers in Thailand.”

A Vientiane resident said that the COVID-19 pandemic seriously hindered the government’s capacity to enforce anti-human trafficking measures, while also putting more Laotians in desperate financial situations amid a faltering economy and rampant unemployment.

The resident said conditions were ripe for traffickers to exploit the vulnerable.

“A group of people or middlemen have been luring our kids to work in the Golden Triangle Special Economic Zone,” he said, referring to the gambling and tourism hub in northwestern Laos’ Bokeo province that caters to Chinese citizens and has been described as a de-facto Chinese colony.

The zone, established in 2007, has become a haven for criminal activities including prostitution, scamming and drug trafficking.

Lure of high-paying jobs

A Thai investor doing business in Laos said the Golden Triangle SEZ is enticing to potential trafficking victims “because wages are higher in the SEZ than they are in other places in the country.”

“Wages in Laos, outside of the SEZ, are just not enough for living,” he said. “But, those who work in the SEZ are at higher risk being trafficked.”

The investor said that traffickers “no longer have to convince kids” to come to the zone and instead “go straight to parents” with promises of high-paying jobs.

An official from Bokeo’s Tonpheung district, where the zone is located across the Mekong River from Thailand’s Chiang Rai province, told RFA that authorities are “still gathering information” about the number of people being trafficked there.

“We don’t know the exact number yet, but we know there are a lot of victims,” he said.

Among the recommendations the State Department made to Laos in its last report were to increase efforts to train police and border officials on how to protect victims and to proactively screen for trafficking indicators among vulnerable groups, including Lao and foreign workers on large infrastructure, mining, and agricultural projects, as well as Lao and foreign nationals employed in SEZs.

Translated by Max Avary. Edited by Joshua Lipes and Malcolm Foster.


不想錯過? 請追蹤FB專頁!    
前一頁 後一頁