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Police foxed by confusing orders

                                        December 28, 1998 


                   RIGHTS ABUSE

 Police foxed by
 confusing orders

 'Superiors to blame for rough treatment'

 Onnucha Hutasingh

 Conflicting state orders are being blamed as the reason why alien
 victims of human trafficking rings are being treated so coldly by the

 International human rights organisations have called on officials to
 strictly abide by a 1997 Act which clearly defines anti-human
 trafficking measures as well as punishment for those engaged in human
 rights abuses.

 It is clearly stipulated in the act that upon arrest, illegal aliens who are
 victims of trafficking rackets must be treated as damaged parties
 rather than wrongdoers or suspects under the Immigration Act.

 But in practice, most are locked up to await deportation. Law
 enforcers either say they are unaware of the law or cite a December
 11 Royal Thai Police Office regulation requiring the victims to face due
 action before they are sent home.

 The confusion has impeded efforts to protect the victims' basic rights
 and also denied them the assistance and care they so badly need.

 While the act clarifies the victims' status, the police regulation does
 exactly the opposite, frustrating officials with contradictory orders,
 said a Songkhla immigration police officer who declined to be named.

 "I find it so confusing, I don't know what order to adhere to," he said.

 Although he is in favour of following the act, he cannot afford to
 disobey the directives from his superiors.

 Child and women welfare advocates, however, are making moves to
 ensure the act is strictly observed and implemented accordingly.

 Saisuree Chutikul, chairman of the Senate Committee on the Affairs of
 Women, Youth and Elderly, is drafting a memorandum to address the
 urgency to protect the rights of victims, particularly women and
 children, many of whom were forced into prostitution.

 The memo to be acknowledged by relevant agencies such as the
 police, the Labour and Social Welfare Ministry and the Public Health
 Ministry, also emphasises the importance of expanding to the full the
 state's caring capacity in offering temporary shelter to the victims of
 human trafficking.

 Ms Saisuree insisted victims should not be charged and instead
 accommodated at the state-run or private welfare homes before they
 are deported.

 But her main concern lies with the negative attitude of police towards
 the victims who are put behind bars as suspects.

 In the past, these foreign sex slaves were refused state assistance for
 the simple reason that they were not Thai citizens.

 They would be arrested for illegal entry and confined to cramped cells
 at the Immigration Police headquarters while their deportation
 procedures were being processed. No psychological aid or
 counselling was given. 

 Kemporn Virunrapan, director of the Foundation for Children's
 Development, said the authorities argued they did not know they had
 to refer the children or women victims to social welfare agencies.

 Even if the offices were contacted, the aliens would be kept there for
 only a short period. They would only be returned to the immigration
 police cells a few days before deportation.

 The wrong attitude the authorities harbour must change, she said,
 adding these sex slaves had already suffered enough at the hands of

 Special Branch Police Bureau statistics showed that every year over
 300,000 foreign victims pass through Thailand en route to a third
 country where they are either forced into the flesh trade or end up as
 illegal labourers.

 The highest number originated from Burma.

 Children of the victims also cause a mountain of problems. Some
 200,000 of them have been orphaned or are known to have lost
 contact with their relatives in their mother countries.

 They end up having nothing. No citizenship, no access to schooling or
 families to care for. They have to live off the streets as beggars and are
 being drawn into the underworld the same way as their parents.


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 Last Modified: Mon, Dec 28, 1998
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