Bangkok (Thailand), 11 January 2016 - Emphasis needs to be placed on close coordination with immediate neighbours in order to tackle the problem of human trafficking to Thailand, the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) stated today at the launch of a new joint venture with the Thai Institute of Justice (TIJ).
Human trafficking into Thailand generates huge profits for criminal networks, with the majority of foreign victims entering the country from Cambodia, Lao or Myanmar. The launch of the Joint Project to Counter Human Trafficking marks the start of a unique three-year partnership between UNODC and the TIJ to address human trafficking to Thailand, by focusing on the cross-border flow of victims from three of its Mekong neighbours. The UNODC-TIJ project will strengthen the criminal justice response in all four countries while also improving cross-border cooperation.
The project is being launched at a time when the topic of human trafficking in Thailand has continued to dominate headlines. Over the past year, media stories of trafficking camps in the South, and slavery-like working conditions in the fishing industry, have illustrated the scale of the challenge facing the Royal Thai Government. Until now, much of the discourse has focussed on what can be done at the national level in response. The UNODC-TIJ partnership will add a sub-regional perspective.
"The estimated value of the illegal trade in human trafficking and migrant smuggling from the sub-region into Thailand runs into the hundreds of million dollars. National or bilateral criminal justice approaches alone simply aren't enough to tackle a problem of this scale and complexity," said Mr. Jeremy Douglas, Regional Representative of UNODC in Southeast Asia and the Pacific. "The eradication of human trafficking has already been prioritised in the recently announced Sustainable Development Goals, and to achieve this in our region, authorities from Cambodia, Lao, Myanmar and Thailand need to pursue a more coordinated strategy.
The partnership between a UN agency and a private organisation from what has traditionally been a beneficiary country is an innovative arrangement that leverages the comparative advantages of both. UNODC brings international experience and authority to the table as the guardian of the Palermo Protocol, the main international instrument in the fight against human trafficking, while the TIJ will use its national and regional know-how and access to ensure the project's success. "The complex phenomenon of human trafficking defies simplistic solutions, but the TIJ believes that this project can greatly help our neighbours and simultaneously have a positive impact on the trafficking situation in our own country," said Dr. Kittipong Kittayarak, Executive Director of the TIJ.
The project is built on two phases: a research phase and a programming phase. The former will see UNODC and the TIJ embark on an in-depth, year-long research project to understand the problem of trafficking from Cambodia, Lao and Myanmar to Thailand, and identify gaps in the law enforcement, justice system and international assistance response. The latter will consist of a series of programming activities to address the needs identified by the research.
Mr. Benjamin Smith, UNODC Regional Coordinator for Human Trafficking and Migrant Smuggling, stressed the importance of this two-phase approach. "One of the main challenges in preventing and combating human trafficking is the lack of complete and accurate data", he said. "That's why this project places such an emphasis on comprehensive research into the problem before embarking on other activities."
UNODC and the TIJ will complete the research report by December 2016 for distribution to relevant authorities in the sub-region, along with international partners.