International migration is likely to be with us as long as human societies continue to develop,” outgoing UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan stated in a global migration report released this year.
He urged governments to promote the rights of migrants. “In all probability, it will continue to rise in the decades ahead,” Annan predicted. According to a UN survey, there are currently an estimated 191 million people living outside their country of origin and half of them are women. Throughout history, people have migrated to find better lives.
Many migrants are desperate. They risk their lives and invest all they have or can borrow to seek a better life, oftentimes in an unwelcome environment. Impoverished Burmese are no exception. In Thailand alone, it's estimated there are 1.3 million migrant workers, mostly from neighboring Burma, and many more are pouring in. Many of them are caught up in exploitation by human trafficking rings.
In the past, the Burmese exodus has been mainly regarded as result of the repressive military government’s human rights abuses and economic mismanagement, putting many Burmese below the poverty line. Critics constantly noted the regime’s failure to address the migrant issue. This year, however, saw Burmese authorities issue passports for Burmese migrants who want to work in Thailand. Still, many migrants, who are already working in Thailand, suspect the government’s move and regard it as nothing more than an attempt to try to squeeze revenue out of their sweat. Despite lack of statistics, experts believe that remittance from Burmese overseas is a major source of stable income for many Burmese at home who live under economic hardship.
The Burmese government recently claimed success in cracking down on human trafficking with more arrests and severe punishment for scores of offenders. The US State Department, however, ranks Burma as a “source country for women and men trafficked for the purposes of forced labor and sexual exploitation.” Its report stated that Burmese citizens were trafficked to Thailand, China, Bangladesh, Malaysia, Korea and Macau for sexual exploitation, domestic service and forced labor.
Last week, 41 Burmese, who hid in a gasoline truck while trying to sneak in Thailand, were arrested. They will be charged with illegal entry and deported home, where they will face punishment for unlawfully leaving the country. Both Burma and Thailand could help solve the illegal trafficking problem by focusing more efforts to crack down on the well-organized human trafficking rings which sometimes involve influential gangs and government officials, often the same people who are on watch for human trafficking along the border.
Human trafficking must be confronted on moral and legal grounds as a gross violation of human rights. As long as governments overlook and fail to crack down on those responsible for human trafficking, the fate of many desperate migrants will be subject to the whims of criminals and corrupt government officials.
Adapted from: "A Cure for Human Trafficking of Migrants." The Irrawaddy. 18 December 2006.
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