The government maintained efforts to identify and protect victims. The government identified 444 trafficking victims in 2022, compared with approximately 424 victims identified in 2021. The 444 identified trafficking victims included 165 men and boy victims and 279 women and girl victims; 344 Thai victims, 41 Laotian victims, 25 victims from Burma, ten Indian victims, seven Indonesian victims, 11 victims from other countries (Cambodia, PRC, Uganda, Tanzania, Uzbekistan, and Kenya), three stateless victims, and three victims from unidentified countries; and 139 victims of sex trafficking and 229 victims of labor trafficking. The government reported providing services to all 444 (compared with 354 victims in 2021) including through the provisions of shelter, reintegration support, legal assistance, financial assistance, and other support; 170 victims received assistance in government shelters, 32 victims resided in NGO government-registered shelters, and 242 received services outside shelters, the vast majority of whom were Thai. Authorities identified 92 migrant labor trafficking victims exploited in Thailand in 2022, including one exploited in the fishing sector.
Thailand’s NRM, which was approved in March 2022, guided officials to place potential victims in a temporary shelter where they could access basic services for up to 15 days before undergoing identification interviews by MDTs. MDTs, which included representatives from government agencies and NGOs, interviewed potential victims to formally identify trafficking victims and refer them to services. Formal identification by MDTs was necessary for victims to obtain a legal right to the full range of services available to trafficking victims, including access to the government’s trafficking shelters. After formal identification by MDTs, the government provided victims who consented to participate in legal proceedings against traffickers with services or allowed victims an additional 30 days to decide if they wished to participate in legal proceedings. Under the previously existing framework, which was still used by some officials, the anti-trafficking law permitted officials to take potential trafficking victims into the government’s custody for no more than 24 hours, or up to eight days with the permission of a court, during which MDTs conducted victim identification interviews. This process was a significant barrier for some victims who were not physically or psychologically prepared to undergo the MDT identification process to obtain services.
The government allocated funding to the Ministry of Interior to establish 10 victim identification centers in provinces selected for their trafficking risks; potential victims could receive services at the centers during the reflection period. The government opened one center during the reporting period, which assisted 59 potential victims, but had not opened the remaining centers by the end of the reporting period. The government previously reported it had opened the first victim identification center in Don Muang in March 2022, but the facility was still under construction by the end of the reporting period. The government, in collaboration with civil society organizations, trained officials from relevant agencies on the NRM. Despite these trainings, implementation of the NRM was uneven; some officials remained unsure how to implement it and the government did not allocate sufficient resources to ensure its effective implementation throughout the country or provide sufficient training to labor inspectors on it.
The government began implementing SOPs, originally approved in March 2022, for the identification of labor trafficking victims according to the 2019 forced labor amendment of the trafficking law (section 6/1). The government reported conducting more than 1,000 screenings utilizing these SOPs and identified 13 potential victims from October 2022 to February 2023; officials referred potential victims to MDTs for formal identification interviews, in accordance with the SOPs. The Ministry of Labor (MOL) continued to collaborate with an NGO to assess and revise the SOPs; however, many local officials did not receive sufficient training on their use.
Some officials lacked understanding of trafficking and did not effectively implement identification procedures consistently throughout the country. Some officials concluded if individuals originally consented to come to Thailand to work, including through irregular migration channels, they could not be trafficking victims. The government required immigration officials be present for MDT interviews involving migrants, which likely deterred some from recounting their experiences, fearing deportation or detention. There were reports authorities discouraged MDTs from changing their assessments after a second victim interview. While MDTs confirmed trafficking victims, MDT personnel, which sometimes included local police officers, provincial MSDHS staff, and local labor officials, at times lacked sufficient experience with trafficking victims. To address gaps in victim identification among provincial level officials, the government continued to send teams to support less experienced MDTs in the identification process.
The DSI, with financial support from an international organization, trained officials from various agencies on screening for indicators and victim identification in labor trafficking in the fishing sector. Labor inspectors and members of the Royal Thai Navy screened migrant workers for trafficking during inspections, including during inspections of fishing vessels. However, due to inconsistent and ineffective interviewing practices during inspections, many labor trafficking victims remained unidentified. Observers also reported labor inspectors did not understand their role included identifying trafficking victims. NGOs reported assisting trafficking victims on fishing vessels that underwent inspections, but whom authorities did not identify as victims.
The law protected victims from prosecution for unlawful acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked; however, due to incomplete implementation of victim identification procedures, authorities likely penalized trafficking victims for immigration violations and other criminal acts committed as a direct result of being trafficked. Officials did not consistently screen irregular migrants for trafficking, particularly those fleeing political instability in Burma, those in immigration detention centers, or those fleeing cyber scam operations in neighboring countries, which left many unidentified victims detained and without services. Some undocumented foreign victims likely did not report their exploitation to authorities because of fears of arrest and deportation.
Some officials also reportedly lacked understanding of forced labor in cyber scam operations and stated those exploited could not be trafficking victims, despite widespread reports indicating most individuals recruited for these operations faced conditions indicative of forced labor. Although the RTP worked to facilitate the repatriation of Thai victims of forced labor in cyber scam operations, the government charged victims with criminal violations related to the scamming activities traffickers forced them to commit.
The government continued to refer victims formally identified by MDTs to government-operated shelters where they had access to counseling, legal assistance, medical care, civil compensation, financial aid, witness protection, education or vocational trainings, and employment opportunities. While the MSDHS reported providing some services to victims who did not agree to participate in the prosecution process, authorities often made the provision of many services contingent upon victims’ willingness to participate in law enforcement investigations. The MSDHS operated 76 short-stay shelters and nine long-term regional trafficking shelters, including four dedicated to adult male victims and families, four for female victims, and one for male child victims. The government typically only permitted foreign victims who held a valid visa or work permit at the time of their formal identification to stay outside government shelters during legal proceedings against traffickers. Shelters partnered with companies to provide victims opportunities to work outside shelters, and, in a pilot project, one shelter signed an MOU with five companies in 2022; the government reported 42 adult victims received employment, compared with 17 victims in 2021. Authorities sometimes required undocumented foreign victims to remain in government shelters while the government processed applications for permits to temporarily stay and work in Thailand.
MSDHS trafficking shelters did not allow some victims, including adults and those with temporary stay permits, to leave without permission, which authorities determined on a case-by-case basis; only victims who received permission to work outside shelters could leave the shelter on a regular basis for work. Authorities often required victims to stay in shelters until the completion of proceedings or until an advanced stage of providing testimony against traffickers, even in cases in which they were physically and psychologically ready to exit the shelter system. In addition, shelter staff sometimes restricted victims’ access to personal cell phones, particularly at the beginning of shelter stays, sometimes required victims obtain permission to make personal phone calls, and often monitored their calls. The MSDHS held a workshop in October 2022 for shelter officials to develop guidelines appropriate for each shelter on victims’ freedom of movement and access to communication devices; the MSDHS finalized the guidelines during the reporting period. In practice, the MSDHS implemented different policies for different shelters and among different populations regarding victims’ communication and freedom of movement. Officials said these measures were taken to ensure victims’ safety and to prevent re-victimization; however, requiring victims to remain in shelters longer than necessary, combined with the restrictions on their movement and communication during shelter stays, may have contributed to some victims’ re-traumatization and inhibited their ability to earn an income. An open-concept shelter developed with an NGO in the previous reporting period closed in May 2022; plans to reopen the shelter remained pending at the end of the reporting period.
The government permitted some victims residing in shelters to obtain outside employment; however, for some foreign victims the government did not identify suitable employment opportunities and some shelter officials cited fears victims would “flee” shelters as a rationale for restricting their freedom of movement. The required shelter stays continued to deter foreign victims from cooperating with law enforcement, with some preferring to be deported to their home countries instead. The government permitted some victims to reside and obtain services at three government-registered NGO shelters; victims preferred to stay at these shelters over government-operated shelters in part because of more freedom of movement. Victims using the NGO shelters could still obtain compensation from the government’s anti-trafficking fund; however, the government did not provide additional funding to support the operation of these shelters. Observers reported strict requirements for NGO-operated shelters to receive government permission to assist formally identified victims made it challenging for additional NGOs to operate shelters. Although the government took some steps to collaborate with NGOs, in practice, government officials did not take meaningful steps to work with these organizations to protect victims or otherwise support the government’s anti-trafficking efforts.
MSDHS shelters employed inconsistent policies and provision of care to victims. Government shelters often lacked adequate numbers of psychologists and staff trained on trauma-informed care, inhibiting victims from obtaining psycho-social care. The MSDHS reported all shelters had the capacity to provide temporary accommodations to LGBTQI+ victims, and one shelter could provide long-term accommodations; however, the long-term shelter did not provide separate bedrooms and restroom facilities for LGBTQI+ victims. In addition, aspects of the identification process made it difficult for LGBTQI+ victims to express their gender preferences, and authorities often did not ask victims their shelter preferences. The MSDHS did not equip its shelters to provide adequate accommodations for victims with disabilities. Although the MSDHS reported it worked with the National Interpreter Association to increase the number of interpreters available to assist shelters, shelters often lacked sufficient numbers of interpreters, which weakened their ability to provide adequate services to victims. NGOs reported interpreters who participated in victim identification interviews and in court proceedings lacked training in trafficking cases. The MSDHS collaborated with an NGO to develop a training course for MSDHS officials on trauma-informed care and trained social workers, psychologists, and attorneys on trauma-informed care.
The law permitted foreign trafficking victims and witnesses to stay and work in Thailand for up to two years upon the completion of legal proceedings against traffickers; however, the government did not report extending this benefit to any victims during the reporting period. NGOs reported the inability to stay in Thailand meant many trafficking victims did not want to be identified by authorities because it would result in their repatriation home after participating in legal proceedings against traffickers.
In 2022, the government provided 4.96 million baht ($143,680) to trafficking victims from its anti-trafficking fund (compared with 4.13 million baht, or $119,640, in 2021), including 1.49 million baht ($43,160) that went to victims residing outside government- or NGO-operated shelters, for living expenses, payments for work inside shelters, education, medical care, repatriation, and other expenses. NGOs reported the process for victims to access this fund was complex, which likely prevented some victims from obtaining necessary monetary support. However, the government developed an online platform for victims to submit requests for compensation from the trafficking fund and established a working group to revise regulations to increase ease of access to the fund. Nonetheless, the government’s requirement victims stay in shelters during the legal process resulted in some victims, especially female sex trafficking victims, choosing to forgo their rights to compensation to minimize their time in shelters.
The law obligated prosecutors to file restitution claims when a victim expressed intention to make a claim. The Human Trafficking Criminal Procedures Act allowed judges to award compensation or restitution to victims, including in the absence of a victim request for these funds. Beginning in December 2022, the law allowed the government to use assets seized from traffickers to compensate victims. The government reported courts ordered 66.6 million baht ($1.93 million) in restitution for victims, an increase compared with 10.7 million baht ($309,970) in 2021. The MSDHS provided legal assistance to victims to file compensation claims and ensure enforcement of orders; however, only two cases resulted in the successful execution of restitution orders.
Criminal defamation laws continued to allow companies to pursue criminal charges against potential victims, advocates, and government officials investigating cases, sometimes through strategic lawsuits against public participation, which resulted in advocates facing years of legal harassment. Observers continued to report these types of cases deterred advocates and victims from reporting exploitation. Despite making amendments to the criminal procedure code in March 2019 that would enable courts to immediately dismiss cases filed with dishonest intent or to intimidate defendants, as well as amendments in February 2019 that strengthened the rights of defendants in cases where their employers filed criminal defamation charges, the government did not report utilizing these amendments to drop criminal defamation charges pursued against advocates or victims.