Lao authorities are tightening controls at a crossing on the border with Thailand, posting warning signs and interviewing travelers in a bid to end the exploitation of young Lao citizens for sex or labor in the neighboring country.
Speaking to RFA’s Lao Service, a Lao border officer at the Vangtao-Song Mek checkpoint in Champassak province said that officials now try actively to help travelers “before they cross the border.”
“We are campaigning and giving them information, and we are distributing flyers to anyone going into Thailand,” the officer said, speaking on condition of anonymity.
“We may also refuse permission to cross to anyone who is underage,” he said.
Signs posted at the border crossing now warn travelers lured into Thailand by the promise of high-paying jobs, “Do not listen to strangers who can entrap you in prostitution and hard labor.”
“We can help you with counseling, shelter, food, and job training,” the signs say.
Lao officers working on the border also take time to speak directly to young Laotians hoping to leave the country, asking their age and the reasons for their travel, RFA’s source said.
Authorities tell would-be emigrants to be sure they have the proper documentation--including passports, visas, and work permits--required to find jobs in Thailand.
“Many Lao workers are being sent home every day,” RFA’s source said.
“Most of them don’t have work permits. They only have passports, and they go there as tourists and then work illegally.”
“So we tell them that it is dangerous and problematic to go to Thailand like that.”
Many work without papers
According to Thailand’s Ministry of Labour, there are around 170,000 Lao workers working legally in the country out of around 2.7 million documented migrant workers—mainly from Myanmar and Cambodia.
While the ministry does not provide figures for undocumented workers from specific countries, it estimates that 2 million migrants are working in Thailand without papers. Reports suggest that more than 200,000 of those illegal migrant workers are from Laos.
Meanwhile, Laos is suffering from a shortage of workers—including skilled workers—but Laotians prefer to work in Thailand because they receive nearly double the pay they get at home.
On June 23, Thailand enacted a royal decree imposing jail terms of up to five years and a fine of up to 100,000 baht (U.S. $2,941) on illegal workers in the country.
The decree was suspended following backlash from employers and migrant advocates, but thousands of workers had already fled the country, fearing arrest and deportation.
Thailand has been widely criticized by rights groups for its treatment of migrant workers, who are often exploited by unscrupulous employers and labor brokers.
“Thailand is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking,” the U.S. State Department said in its 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Max Avary. Written in English by Richard Finney.