More than 20 Lao women who had been brought against their will to Thailand to work in a brothel were transferred to a home for trafficking victims Friday while they wait for their captor to be tried, according to a Thai official.
The 21 women, three of whom are under the age of 18, were part of a larger group of 41 which Thai police freed Wednesday from two karaoke bars in the town of Sungai Golok in southern Narathiwat province, where they were forced to work as prostitutes.
Sungai Golok, which Thai police say is a major human trafficking destination in the country with over 100 brothels, is located on the border with Malaysia.
The remaining 20 women, who authorities said willingly entered the country, are being interviewed by immigration police and are likely to be deported in the coming week.
A Thai human trafficking official, who spoke with RFA on condition of anonymity, said the trafficked women had been brought to the Sri Surat rehabilitation center in Thailand’s Surat Thani province where they would await legal proceedings against their captor, who was arrested in the raid.
“We have just arrived at the Sri Surat Home, which is a regional center for women and children who are the victims of human trafficking in southern Thailand,” she said.
“They will stay at the home while awaiting the legal process, which can take up to three months. In the meantime, they will learn a vocational skill.”
The official said Sri Surat staff would be working to contact the families of the women in Laos.
She said that all of the trafficking victims have passports and would not be sent to the immigration police for repatriation.
The 20 women who had voluntarily crossed into Thailand would likely be repatriated through Nongkhai on the border with Laos, she said.
“I don’t think the voluntary women will be sued. They came willingly and are over 18, so it is likely they will simply be deported.”
The official said that cases of forced prostitution were “extremely common” in Thailand.
“These women are deported, but they keep coming back,” she said.
“Mostly, we find them at karaoke bars, which are just fronts for brothels.”
Thai police said Wednesday that they had rescued the 41 Lao women, aged 16-23, from the Inter-Karaoke Bars #1 and #2 in Sungai Golok after receiving a tip from one of the victim’s relatives.
Authorities also arrested the 45-year-old owner of the two bars on charges of human trafficking.
The women said they had been told by a broker that they could expect high-paying jobs as waitresses in Thailand, but ended up being forced to work as prostitutes. Their passports were held by the bar owner, police said.
According to the human trafficking official, the passports of the three victims under the age of 18 were doctored by accomplices of the bar owner in Laos to make the girls appear older.
One of the underage victims at the Sri Surat Home, who gave her name as Nam, offered a warning to other Lao girls who might be enticed by the prospect of work across the border.
“I would like to tell all Lao girls to be careful when offered a job, especially one in a restaurant. Please pay attention to the character of the person making you an offer to make sure whether they are trustworthy or not,” she said.
“I’m concerned for you because I don’t want you to go through the same experience in which we were trapped.”
Wednesday’s raid marks the latest in a string of sex trafficking scandals in which Lao women have been lured to Thailand with the promise of legitimate work.
In August, Thai authorities freed 59 Lao women from a karaoke bar as part of a larger bust that rescued another 12 women from a spa. Both raids took place in Thailand’s Songkhla province near the border with Malaysia.
Thirteen of those freed were girls under the age of 18.
In February, police rescued five Lao teenage girls from a karaoke bar in central Thailand’s Suphan Buri province where they were forced to work as prostitutes after being told they would be given jobs at a restaurant in Bangkok.
And in October last year, police rescued 13 girls from Laos who were forced into prostitution in Thailand’s Lop Buri province and arrested four suspects involved in a syndicate smuggling underage girls.
Laos is primarily a source country for women and girls trafficked mostly to Thailand for commercial sexual exploitation and forced labor as domestic or factory workers, government and relief officials say.
Some 35 percent of Lao nationals trafficked to Thailand end up in prostitution, UN figures have showed.
Another 32 percent end up in forced labor, 17 percent work in factories, and 4 percent work on fishing boats.
A U.S. State Department global report on human trafficking this year said many Laotians, particularly women, pay broker fees to obtain jobs in Thailand, normally ranging from U.S. $70 to U.S. $200, but are subsequently subjected to conditions of sexual servitude and forced labor once they arrive in the neighboring country.
Lao men are subjected to conditions of forced labor in the Thai fishing and construction industry, while a small number of Lao women and girls reportedly were also trafficked to China to become brides for Chinese men, the report said.
Laos is also increasingly a transit country for Vietnamese, Chinese, and Burmese women who are subjected to sex trafficking and forced labor in Thailand, according to the report.
Reported by RFA’s Lao service. Translated by Viengsay Luangkhot. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.