Thai women warned over sex trade gangs

Thai women have been warned against being lured into the sex trade in Switzerland following numerous cases of human trafficking.

The warning was issued yesterday by Senate committee on foreign affairs chairman Phikunkaeo Krairoek during talks between Thai and Swiss authorities and non-governmental groups which investigated 193 cases of sex victims, including Thai nationals, in 2011.

Thai officials knew of the flesh trade and in 2008 launched the Anti-Trafficking in Persons Act to crack down on wrongdoers, including those who entice Thai women into working as prostitutes in Switzerland.

Ms Phikunkaeo applauded the legal measures but "what the officials lack is law enforcement", she told the workshop on preventing human trafficking.

Worse, she said, some state officials, police and influential figures help the gangsters' illegal trade.

Eighteen Thai women were among 193 sex trade victims assisted in Switzerland in 2011. Most of them, usually from the North and the Central Plains, were single mothers who were also committed to taking care of their parents, according to the Zurich-based Advocacy and Support for Migrant Women and Victims of Trafficking, known as FIZ.

Swiss ambassador to Thailand Christine Schraner Burgener insisted the embassy always carefully considered visa requests from Thai women, but they managed to obtain Schengen visas from other embassies, which gave them permission to enter European countries.

In more than 70 problem cases involving Thai women, they had been granted a visa by other embassies, Ms Burgener said, citing her embassy's records.

For women who are forced to sell sex, they encounter intimidation by human trafficking gangs while also owing money to them, the FIZ report said.

Each Thai victim needs to earn between 30,000 and 60,000 Swiss francs (980,000 to 1.96 million baht) to pay the gangs.

They are given only a small allowance for their daily living costs in return for seven days of sex work.

They are not allowed to choose their customers and in many cases their clients do not use condoms, the FIZ report said.

It is difficult for the women to complain to authorities, FIZ said.

The gangs threaten them saying they have entered Switzerland illegally and will be jailed if their status is revealed to police officers.

The gangs also tell them they have connections with some police and politicians.

As a result, many women decide not to speak out about their problems and take actions against the wrongdoers. They are fearful and become ashamed if their problems are known by the authorities and people in their communities.

"Parents of some victims don't know their daughters were lured to be prostitutes in Switzerland, but when they were questioned by Swiss police, their problems were all known in the village," said Usa Loetsisanthat, of the Foundation for Women.

However, if they do not file complaints with police and take legal action, they cannot get financial help from Thai and foreign funds which have been set up to aid the victims of human traffickers, Ms Usa said.

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Writer: Mongkol Bangprapa
Position: Reporter