CONSUL GENERAL'S CORNER
October 10, 2011
"And who is responsible for this appalling... slavery? Everyone." - Mary Harris Jones
When Hillary Clinton first came to Thailand in 1996, when her husband was President, she traveled to Chiang Mai. While here, she visited the New Life Center, which specializes in rehabilitating victims of trafficking. New Life Center Director Karen Smith told me later that Mrs. Clinton's visit was a turning point for the organization, giving it new stature with local authorities and prompting them to take the plight of victims more seriously.
Fast forward 15 years, and Thailand -- as is so much of the world -- is still grappling with human trafficking. To get a sense of the scale, I asked an old friend at UNESCO with decades of experience on
trafficking issues whether the situation was getting any better. No,
he told me, if anything it's getting worse. The migrant population is growing, especially Burmese economic migrants looking for work; and stateless ethnic minorities are particularly vulnerable to exploitation.
My friend gathered together several people working on trafficking issues for a lively dinner in Chiang Mai on September 27. This included former UNESCO officials, a doctoral student studying trafficking issues, a documentary filmmaker, ethnic Akha and Lahu minorities who helped translate books and radio programs into their languages, anti-trafficking NGOs and U.S. Consulate staff. We discussed ways in which we could raise awareness of the dangers of trafficking, including the use of translated outreach materials, and how to increase law enforcement activities. While we didn't solve the problem, it was nice to see so many people working on the problem from different angles.
Among the dinner attendees was the director of TRAFCORD, one of the most prominent anti-trafficking organizations here in Chiang Mai.
TRAFCORD started in 2002 with U.S. government assistance to identify potential victims and work with law enforcement authorities to rescue them. TRAFCORD then helps place victims in recovery centers while working with authorities to prosecute the traffickers. TRAFCORD's effective model started in northern Thailand but has been used to rescue victims as far south as Malaysia.
It was therefore our pleasure to represent the U.S. Department of State on October 5 by presenting TRAFCORD's Project Director, Ms.
Duean Wongsa, with a grant for $260,000 U.S. to continue to coordinating government and non-governmental activities to counter human trafficking in Thailand's north and the border region with Burma and Laos. The grant will fund community awareness programs on the dangers of trafficking, provide direct assistance to trafficking victims, and support police and prosecutors in the investigation and prosecution of this crime.
At the check presentation ceremony, Ms. Duean announced that this was the largest grant that TRAFCORD had ever received. She noted that TRAFCORD relies on cooperation in the community to identify at-risk groups and trafficking operations. Ms. Duean added -- as my UNESCO friend had told me earlier -- that human trafficking in Thailand has actually increased, with boys increasingly trafficked as well.
My colleague Todd Bate-Poxon represented the Consulate at the ceremony, where he said, "The U.S. Mission in Thailand has a long history of cooperation with TRAFCORD. We admire the work they do on behalf of the victims and salute the Thai law enforcement agencies and centers for protection and recovery with which they cooperate. This grant reflects the continued importance that the United States places on stopping trafficking and our confidence in TRAFCORD’s operation.”
This grant, while significant, is dwarfed by the scale of the problem.
It will require cooperation from all members of the community to help stop trafficking. Our hope is that organizations such as TRAFCORD and the New Life Center -- and events such as the MTV Exit anti-trafficking concert in Chiang Mai last June -- can integrate with law enforcement and local authorities to continue to make a difference.
Stopping trafficking is a priority for the U.S., as well as Thailand.
Building awareness is the first step.
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