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During a raid conducted by Thai police accompanied by Burmese labour activists, 10 Burmese women were freed, including underage teenagers, from a brothel in southern Thailand where they had been forced to work as prostitutes.
Officials from the Royal Thai Police’s Department of Special Investigation along with representatives from the Myanmar Association Thailand (MAT) and Foundation for Education and Development (FED) raided the five brothels disguised as hostels in Thailand’s Ranong province on 10 July.
“We accompanied the local police’s raid on the hostels around 8pm on [Wednesday]. They shut down immediately upon our arrival and told all the girls to go hide in the woods nearby, so when we surrounded the premises, but we couldn’t find any of them [initially],” said MAT’s director Kyaw Thaung.
The police and activists proceeded to search the surrounding area, where they found of the 10 women hiding.
“One of us found two of the girls. One was from [Tenasserim’s] Tavoy and was around 22 years old and the other one was 17. We whispered to them that we weren’t there to arrest them but to bring them back to their parents,” said Kyaw Thaung.
“They started crying ‘We are free!’ and danced. We continued to search for the rest for about an hour and managed to rescue 10 women in total.”
The MAT director said he estimated that around 50 women fled into the woods after the raid commenced, but the police and NGO workers were only able to find a fraction of individuals who they believed worked at the brothel.
According to an account provided during an interview after the raid, one of the victims said she arrived in Thailand after a ‘job agent’ had promised to find her a position at a clothing store, but was later sold to the brothel.
“I was brought to Thailand via a flight by a woman named Zin Myo – she promised to find me a job at a clothing store with monthly salary of around 100,000 kyat (US$100). I decided to come with her as my family was facing financial challenges,” said the woman under the condition of anonymity.
“After being sold here, I wasn’t allowed to leave the premises. Another woman who tried to escape with a customer was rumoured to have been killed – she was never found again.”
The scheme is an all too familiar scam in Thailand where impoverished migrants arriving in the Kingdom are duped by human traffickers posing as job recruiters who end up selling the individuals to brothels.
According to the NGO workers, the victims, aged between 16 and 24, were primarily from Rangoon and Tenasseim divisions in Burma. Some of the women said they had been working at the brothels for eight years. According to Kyaw Thaung, a 16-year-old teenager who was rescued said she had been sold to the brothel before reaching puberty.
Most of the women said they were sold into the prostitution ring against their will and had their food allowances cut if they refused a customer. Three of the victims reportedly sustained injuries during their time in captivity and were not allowed to visit a medical facility.
The Burmese Embassy in Bangkok pledged to provide the victims with assistance to and is currently collecting donations to cover their expenses. Of the 10 rescued women, one has been reunited with her husband and two have returned to Burma, while the remaining seven are recovering at a women’s shelter in Ranong province.
In the US State Department’s annual trafficking report published in June, Thailand was listed on the government’s tier-2 watch list for the fourth year in a row for not complying with the “minimum standards for the elimination of trafficking”.
“The majority of the trafficking victims identified within Thailand are migrants from Thailand’s neighboring countries who are forced, coerced, or defrauded into labor or commercial sexual exploitation or children placed in the sex trade,” stated the report.
“Conservative estimates put this population numbering in the tens of thousands of victims.”
A majority of the Kingdom’s estimated three million migrants are believed to be from Burma.