The scourge of human trafficking
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The scourge of human trafficking

Police move the lorry container where bodies were discovered, in Grays, Essex, Britain Oct 23, 2019. (Reuters file photo)
Police move the lorry container where bodies were discovered, in Grays, Essex, Britain Oct 23, 2019. (Reuters file photo)

The case of 39 people, most Vietnamese, found dead in a refrigerated trailer in Britain highlighted the fact that human trafficking and modern slavery are still a huge problem for Asia, and the entire world for that matter.

The tractor unit of the lorry came from Northern Ireland. It picked up the trailer, which initially came from Zeebrugge in Belgium, at Purfleet on the River Thames. Authorities on Thursday searched three locations in Northern Ireland and the UK National Crime Agency said it was working to identify "organised crime groups who may have played a part".

The agency also said that people-smugglers were switching to Purfleet because it was "less busy" than other UK entry points where Britain remains an attractive destination for immigrants despite Brexit.

The incident was not the first of its kind in the UK. In 2000, 58 Chinese migrants from Fujian were found suffocated to death in a lorry at the port of Dover. In 2004, 21 migrants from Fujian, who were working as cockle-pickers, drowned when they were caught by treacherous tides in Morecambe Bay. The latest incident, in which 31 men and eight women froze to death, shows that nothing much has changed in the shadowy world of human trafficking.

The United Nations' Missing Migrants Project has been tracking the number of migrants who die in transit worldwide since 2014, and the total has reached 27,900, including more than 2,500 this year. Most of the recorded deaths were either mixed or their origins were unknown, while those that have been identified were mostly from Africa. Of the 2,500 deaths this year, 34 were recorded in Asia.

Nevertheless, the majority of trafficking victims are exploited without being moved from one country to another at all, according to the 2019 Trafficking in Persons report by the US State Department. The International Labour Organization has estimated that traffickers exploit 77% of all victims in their countries of residence.

Human trafficking is one of the world's most lucrative organised crimes, generating more than US$150 billion a year. In Asia Pacific, some 25 million people are trapped in modern slavery, according to the 2016 Global Slavery Index by Walk Free. This accounts for 62% of the estimated global total and that is appalling. Even if they do not end up dead in a lorry in Essex, the majority of trafficking victims are already suffering right here in our region.

According to Walk Free, at least 6 out of every 1,000 people in Asia Pacific are slaves. About two-thirds are forced labourers, and most of the rest are in forced marriages.

Over half of all victims of forced labour exploitation are held in debt bondage. Asia Pacific had the highest number of victims across all forms of modern slavery, accounting for 73% of victims of forced sexual exploitation, 68% of those forced to work by state authorities, 64% of those in forced labour, and 42% of all those in forced marriages.

Within the region, North Korea, Afghanistan, Pakistan, Cambodia and Iran had the highest prevalence of modern slavery. India, China and Pakistan had the highest absolute number of people living in modern slavery and 60% of the region's total.

Thailand was 11th on the list with around 9 people out of every 1,000 in slavery, with an estimated absolute number of victims at 610,000. The Kingdom is also the leading destination for trafficking victims from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. This tragedy has to stop.

So, the next time you buy seafood or farm products, you might want to think about where your food is coming from and whether the companies or countries that produced it are using slaves to make it. Before you hire a contractor, you might want to know if the people building your home or office are there of their own free will.

And since more than 60% of the 7,800 identified victims in Thailand between 2012 and 2014 were trafficked for sexual exploitation, if you come to Thailand mainly to visit the red-light districts in Bangkok, Pattaya or Phuket, you might want to think what you are contributing to.

And, if Thai police still cannot find evidence of prostitution in Soi Cowboy in Bangkok or Pattaya's Walking Street, I am sure they are blind, deaf and dumb. Or they are still in thrall to corrupt local officials and politicians who are nothing but mafia. The government should start to address this problem seriously, or Thailand will continue to be seen, by some, as one of the biggest sex destinations in the world.

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