Myanmar has vowed to step up its battle against human trafficking by doing more to check the problem at home and collaborating in preventive efforts with the U.S. and its Southeast Asian neighbors.
Home Affairs minister Ko Ko said the authorities would also emphasize efforts to address the rights of the victims of human trafficking, which has grown into a big problem in Myanmar’s cities in recent years.
“For the process of fighting human trafficking, we need to do it by approaching and focusing on the needs and rights of the victims who are being trafficked,” the minister said last week in the capital Naypyidaw as the country marked “Anti-Human Trafficking Day” for the first time last week.
“We need to work on prevention, bringing traffickers to justice and protecting and taking care of victims,” he said.
He also called for Myanmar’s anti-trafficking officers to receive training so that they can collaborate with the police intelligence network both inside the country and in neighboring countries, such as Thailand and Malaysia, where many citizens emigrate to seek jobs.
Human trafficking in Myanmar has become a serious problem in recent years, according to the United Nations and nongovernmental organizations, as an increasing number of people seek work abroad because of a lack of job opportunities at home.
And while human trafficking largely occurred in rural areas of the country in the past, the problem is now also occurring with increasing frequency in Myanmar’s cities, they say.
Win Naing Tun, deputy chief of Myanmar’s anti-human trafficking police corps, said that as human trafficking has worsened in the country, authorities are taking greater steps to combat the problem internationally through collaborative measures.
“In the past, only the police, judicial organizations, and a few NGOs and civil society organizations were collaborating in the fight against human trafficking,” he said at last week’s event in Naypyidaw.
“Human trafficking is a violation of people’s rights and it threatens societies around the world. Now, many international organizations are collaborating in the fight, and people have become more aware of how dangerous the problem is.”
While Myanmar’s former military regime adopted an anti-human trafficking law in 2005, Anti-Human Trafficking Day—internationally recognized on Sept. 13—was observed for the first time only last week.
This year, ceremonies were held in the capital and in Yangon, as well as in border cities such as Loikaw in Kayah state and Tachilate in Shan state, where residents are most susceptible to the dangers of the human trade.
Win Naing Tun said that Myanmar will host several music concerts to educate the public about human trafficking beginning in October in areas of the country most affected by the problem.
In August, the country launched the U.S.-Myanmar Trafficking in Person dialogues in Naypyidaw.
The talks between delegations led by U.S. Ambassador-at-Large for the Office to Monitor and Combat Trafficking in Persons Luis CdeBaca and Myanmar Police Chief Major General Zaw Win covered trafficking issues such as forced labor, sex trafficking, and the unlawful recruitment and use of child soldiers.
The talks also covered the need to hold to account perpetrators of all forms of trafficking and the benefits of strong government-civil society partnerships.
Police officer Tin Min Lat of Myanmar’s Kayah state told RFA’s Myanmar Service that authorities at all levels were being instructed to train in line with the new focus.
“Our human trafficking police branches have been working together with local authorities and civil society groups to fight against human trafficking,” he said.
Ohnma Ei Ei Chaw, national project director of the U.N.’s anti-trafficking unit in Myanmar, said that part of focusing on what makes victims susceptible to trafficking is working to ensure that they are provided with more opportunities at home.
“Some people are unable to support themselves in their home regions because of environmental problems or unstable political situations,” he told RFA.
“These are the reasons and pressures that cause people to go abroad for work, and they are all related to the nation’s political, economic, and social situations. If we can create a peaceful and stable situation for the people, human trafficking will decrease.”
One of the groups most vulnerable to human trafficking is the Muslim Rohingya minority in western Myanmar’s Rakhine state—an ethnic group that lacks citizenship rights in the country and is viewed as having illegally immigrated from neighboring Bangladesh.
Rohingyas are denied basic social services and economic opportunities, and have also suffered from discrimination and violence at the hands of Myanmar’s Buddhist majority, causing thousands of them to flee to countries such as Thailand and Malaysia to seek a better life.
In May, five female Rohingyas were allegedly raped and nearly trafficked after they were said to have been lured from a shelter in Thailand’s Phangnga province by a police officer and a Rohingya man who told them they would be taken to Malaysia to be reunited with family members, according to a report by the Bangkok Post.
The women were among a group of more than 2,000 Rohingya boat people who arrived in Thailand in January to escape communal violence in Rakhine state last year that left nearly 200 dead and 140,000 displaced—mostly Rohingyas, according to rights groups.
More than 20,000 Rohingyas are estimated to have fled Myanmar by boat to neighboring countries in Southeast Asia since last year's violence, according to the U.S. State Department’s annual report on human trafficking.
Other minority groups from Myanmar have also fallen prey to trafficking after fleeing across the border to Thailand to avoid fighting between ethnic rebels and government troops.
Many of the 2.5 million Burmese migrants in Thailand came illegally to take up low-skilled jobs as domestic servants or in manual labor industries like fisheries and the garment sector during the previous military junta rule. They typically lack health and social security benefits.
Myanmar held a Tier 2 Watch List rank on the U.S. State Department’s most recent annual Trafficking in Persons report, though Ambassador-at-Large Luis CdeBaca told RFA in June, after the report’s release, that Washington “certainly see[s] improving forecasts” for the Southeast Asian nation.
Reported by Myint Oo, Nay Thway and Kyaw Thu for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.