The government maintained efforts to identify and protect trafficking victims. The government identified 824 trafficking victims in 2016, compared with 982 victims in 2015. The Ministry of Social Development and Human Security (MSDHS) reported providing assistance to 561 victims at 76 temporary and nine long-term government shelters in 2016 (compared with 471 in 2015), including 207 Thai victims (126 in 2015) and 360 foreign victims (345 in 2015); 317 were victims of forced labor and 244 were victims of sex trafficking. Thailand ratified the ASEAN Convention against Trafficking in Persons, especially women and children (ACTIP), of which the government was a co-author, in July 2016, and signed the ASEAN Plan of Action against Trafficking in Persons in November 2016. Government agencies participating in multidisciplinary teams who deployed to screen for indications of trafficking among vulnerable populations used a standard questionnaire to guide interviews with potential victims. Some NGOs asserted that the government improved the consistency of its use of the standard questionnaire; however, at least one local NGO noted implementation of identification procedures may not have been consistent outside large cities. To address varying levels of effectiveness among multidisciplinary teams, the government implemented new guidelines in December 2016 on improving the efficiency of the victim identification process. A local NGO noted a short authorized period for victim identification limited proactive screening and may have led to unidentified victims except in the most obvious cases of trafficking. Police working under specialized anti-trafficking units were often successful in identifying trafficking victims; however, in at least one province, first responders who lacked adequate training on human trafficking placed unidentified victims in immigration detention centers (IDCs). Some officials failed to recognize non-physical indicators of trafficking. Labor inspectors could be held personally liable for claims of abuse of power, which limited their ability or willingness to perform their work. In addition to trainings for law enforcement, the government trained more than 2,500 multidisciplinary team members, labor inspectors, social workers, and interpreters on victim identification and referral systems.
The government continued to screen for trafficking indicators among fishermen returning to Thailand and on fishing vessels in Thai waters, as well as among workers in seafood processing facilities. NGO observers noted both at-port and at-sea inspections conducted by multidisciplinary teams of the Command Center for Combating Illegal Fishing (CCCIF) resulted in few identified trafficking victims. Observers said that during the reporting period, interviews were conducted in front of ship captains, or ship captains acted as interpreters, which hindered workers from speaking freely and may have led to unidentified trafficking victims. Others reported the inspection process often only consisted of a review of documents, and in some cases, inspectors reportedly did not board vessels or speak to crew members. Following recommendations from NGOs and international organizations, the government reported efforts to expand inspections to interview workers away from employers, utilize standard interview forms, and automate the documentation process to increase available resources for interviews. An international organization stated workers often did not feel comfortable sharing information on possible exploitation or abuse to authorities until undergoing multiple interviews, and one organization reported interviewing trafficking victims exploited on fishing vessels who had never been identified by the government as trafficking victims during CCCIF inspections.
To address the shortage and quality of interpreters available for certain languages, which limited some government efforts to identify and protect victims, the prime minister ordered that, as of November 2016, non-Thai nationals can be employed as interpreters for labor inspections and interviews. The government registered and trained 115 additional interpreters in 2016 and hired 11 at the beginning of 2017, bringing the total number of available interpreters to 265; MSDHS provided refresher training for 63 existing interpreters. The government also initiated the hiring of two additional interpreters for each of the 32 port-in-port-out inspection centers; 49 had been hired by the end of the reporting period. The government continued to refer victims to the 76 short-stay shelters or the nine long-term regional trafficking shelters operated by MSDHS, where they had access to counseling, legal assistance, medical care, civil compensation, financial aid, witness protection, education or vocational trainings, and employment. In partnership with several NGOs, the government opened a second CAC in Pattaya, which serves as a child-friendly space in which law enforcement, NGOs and social workers can conduct forensic interviews of child trafficking victims with a victim-centered approach. The Beggar Control Act provides health and social services to beggars, some of whom may be trafficking victims. The government and civil society groups partnered to open a service center for fishermen to provide workers information on their rights, skills training, health screenings, and other resources. In 2016, the government disbursed 5.8 million baht ($162,150) from its anti-trafficking fund to 648 victims (472 in 2015). Seventy-three trafficking victims received civil restitution from traffickers and under labor laws in the amount of 5.45 million baht ($152,360); and 23 trafficking victims received restitution from the government for criminal injuries totaling 455,000 baht ($12,720). In complicated cases, MSDHS hired human rights lawyers to serve as victim advocates, participating in interviews and coordinating and preparing witnesses for trial. Following a significant influx of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants in 2014 and 2015 and the discovery of largely abandoned smuggling/trafficking camps and mass graves on the Thai-Malaysian border, 202 Rohingya remained in Thailand at the end of the reporting period, including at least 49 trafficking victims. During the reporting period, in coordination with UNHCR and IOM, 69 Rohingya trafficking victims were resettled in third countries and 15 Bangladeshis were repatriated. Other potential unidentified victims, including some Rohingya men and children, and those whose nationalities could not be determined, continued to be housed at IDCs, sometimes for periods longer than a year, despite IDCs being designated for stays up to only 15 days.
NGOs reported concerns over the lack of appropriate options for foreign children whose families were complicit in their trafficking or whose identity could not be established. Boys were more likely to be sent to juvenile detention facilities than to receive specialized services. Although past reports indicated judicial officials did not always follow procedures to ensure the safety of witnesses, some local NGOs said during the reporting period, judicial officials closely followed procedures in cases involving children to prevent any further victimization. The government increased efforts to ensure adult trafficking victims were able to travel, work, and reside outside shelters as provided by Thailand’s anti-trafficking law. In 2016, 35 percent of victims in government shelters worked outside the shelter, compared to 10 percent in 2015. Of the 561 victims in government shelters, 196 were employed either inside or outside shelters (compared to 47 in 2015) during the course of legal proceedings. Others were reportedly either in the process of being formally repatriated, in the recovery period, chose not to work, or were too young to work. At least 14 male Rohingya victims were able to work outside shelters during the reporting period; however, many other male victims whose nationalities could not be verified, including among Rohingya, were not given permission to leave the shelters. The government approved a daily allowance of 300 baht ($8.39) —which is the minimum wage in most parts of Thailand—to victims residing in MSDHS shelters who wish to work but are unable to do so due to security concerns or are awaiting an employment opportunity, as well as some victims not residing in MSDHS shelters who intend to work. The government did not provide legal alternatives to victims who faced retribution or hardship upon return to their home countries. Authorities assisted in repatriating 323 victims (401 in 2015), including 80 Thais exploited abroad and 243 foreign victims exploited in Thailand, through a government-to-government process if they were unwilling to testify or following the conclusion of legal proceedings. The government facilitated the return of 30 Thai victims from the Indonesian islands of Ambon and Benjina in 2016 and assisted them to claim wages or civil compensation from employers. The government extended the amount of time foreign trafficking victims and witnesses may be permitted to stay and work in Thailand. During the previous reporting period the government increased the limit from six months to one year, allowed foreign victims to renew work permits after the completion of their case, streamlined the process of obtaining works permits from 45 days to 10 days, and stated all witnesses of human trafficking cases would be automatically entitled to the witness protection program; 335 victims and witnesses in trafficking cases have benefitted from these measures since they were enacted. In December 2016 a cabinet resolution then extended the stay permit for trafficking victims and witnesses to two years and allowed victims and witness to work in all sectors, whereas they were previously limited to working in labor-intensive sectors and domestic work. Since the government fully implemented the regulation in January 2017, it granted two victims this right. All victims and witnesses who entered MSDHS shelters fell under the previous resolution approved in March 2016, but will be eligible to request annual one-year extensions to their temporary residency status.
The law protects victims from prosecution for acts committed as a result of being subjected to human trafficking; however, flaws in the government’s implementation of victim identification procedures and its efforts to arrest and soft deport immigration violators increased victims’ risk of being re-victimized and treated as criminals. A local NGO reported the government arrested child victims of forced labor in the fishing industry, detained them in youth correctional facilities, and prosecuted them with immigration, prostitution, and illegal fishing charges, and prosecuted women from Europe and Africa for immigration violations after failing to identify them as trafficking victims. Advocates expressed concerns the conviction of a labor rights activist on criminal defamation charges and violations of the Computer Crimes Act had the effect of silencing other human rights advocates and preventing research of forced labor in supply chains. This development also inhibited a climate conducive to discovering and reporting trafficking crimes, identifying and protecting victims, and apprehending additional traffickers. The government amended the anti-trafficking law in 2015 to provide protection to whistleblowers but did not report whether this new provision has been applied.