One of the six boys who returned to Laos after having been rescued by Thai authorities from human trafficking has serious brain injuries following an attack by a work colleague a year ago. The 16-year-old was rendered disabled after he was attacked from behind with a knife while working on a fishing boat in Thailand by a crew member working on the same boat.
A senior official from the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, Ms Vanly Sounantha, said yesterday that the boy could no longer speak intelligibly, as a direct result of the knife wound that cracked his skull. He also has difficulties in working with his hands, due to other injuries sustained during the attack.
"The boy worked in Thailand illegally for one year, and after he was attacked, he stayed in a Thai hospital for another year prior to returning to Laos," she said. She explained that he is from a poor family in Pak Ngum village of Vientiane, with four sisters and one brother, and was lured to Thailand with the promise of being able to earn money to improve his family's situation.
The returned boys were rescued from exploitative situations, working on a fishing boat and at a car wash, in which they were forced into hard labour by their employers. Ms Vanly said the Lao and Thai authorities had in fact planned to repatriate eight victims to Laos, but the villages of two of the victims were recently flooded, and their return has been postponed indefinitely.
She added that earlier this year, a Lao human trafficking victim sent a letter to her ministry, saying that there were more than 50 victims of human trafficking waiting for help from authorities in a doll factory in Bangkok. The matter is now being investigated by authorities to determine the location of the factory and the possible circumstances of the illegal workers' arrival there.
Human trafficking is likely to become a more serious problem as more Lao people are being lured to Thailand illegally based on a number of circumstances. These include poverty, Thailand's close proximity in terms of location, language and culture, and the high demand for cheap labour in Thailand, causing more and more people to cross the border to work there illegally.
The Lao and Thai governments signed a Memorandum of Understanding in 2002 regarding labour cooperation, to address the issue of illegal Lao workers in Thailand. They also agreed to send 50,000 Lao workers through legal avenues to work in Thailand, but until August this year, Laos was only able to supply 6,546 people to work in Thai factories.
Director General of the Labour and Social Welfare Department, Mr. Pasith Dethphommathet, said that since 2001, more than 900 Lao victims of human trafficking had been sent back to Laos. From January to September this year, almost 200 victims were returned, and some 120 victims are being detained in Thai rehabilitation centres.
Lao and Thai authorities will meet again next week in Thailand to discuss further cooperation, including an amended process of holding and repatriating victims to Laos. Human trafficking is an increasing problem in Laos and throughout the world; in Southeast Asia alone, between 200,000 and 250,000 women and children are trafficked each year, an ILO report stated in 2002.
Adapted from: Samsack Pongkhao. "Trafficking victim repatriated with brain injuries." Vientiane Times. 20 September 2007.
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