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MYANMAR: Tricked by traffickers

Photo: Sin Kyel/IRIN
Many Burmese men find themselves in exploitive working conditions on fishing boats
YANGON, 31 May 2010 (IRIN) - Ko Hla* paid an agent US$800 and then started work on a Taiwanese fishing ship, thinking it was good money at $260 a month. He toiled 18 hours a day.

“We weren’t allowed to complain, we weren’t allowed to contact our [families]. Often we were beaten and intimidated,” the 30-year-old said. “It wasn’t what we expected.”

He quit 16 months later and returned home to find that the agent, who was supposed to send his salary to his family, had run away without making a single payment.

Due to limited job opportunities and low incomes, tens of thousands of Burmese seek work abroad, hoping to earn a better living, but many like Ko Hla and his friends fall prey to human traffickers.

Although there is no reliable data on human trafficking in Myanmar, experts believe several thousands are trafficked annually.

Human prey

According to the UN Inter-Agency Project on Human Trafficking (UNIAP), Burmese women, children, and men are trafficked to Thailand, China, Malaysia, South Korea, and Macau for sexual exploitation, domestic servitude, and forced labour.

Myanmar is also a transit country for trafficked Bangladeshis to Malaysia and Chinese to Thailand.

The Burmese government says China is the main destination, followed by Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.

Women and girls are trafficked to China for forced marriage and sex work, while adults and children are sent to Thailand and Malaysia for forced labour and sexual exploitation.

“The victims of trafficking blindly believe whatever they’re told by the brokers without trying to get correct information regarding the job,” Nan Tin Tin Shwe, anti-trafficking coordinator of the international NGO World Vision, told IRIN.

The country also has internal trafficking from rural areas to the Chinese and Thai borders – known international trafficking routes.

“Children can fall prey to traffickers once they have migrated internally to these areas – or they may end up in exploitative and abusive labour in these areas,” said Lamia Rashid, director of child protection for Save the Children.

Agencies say traffickers with job offers are targeting children and young people in the Ayeyarwady Delta, which was devastated by Cyclone Nargis two years ago.

“Children and young people are keen to take these risks and migrate, and there is a high possibility for them to end up in exploitative working conditions, including sexual exploitation,” Rashid said.

Coordinated fight

The government and international agencies have been working on a national plan of action to combat human trafficking, raising awareness through the media and community meetings.

In addition, the government has 23 anti-trafficking task forces to rescue survivors and stringent laws to punish the traffickers.

Experts say ongoing efforts are needed to protect victims once they have returned home and to scale up prevention efforts in vulnerable communities.

“Victims of trafficking come from source communities that are spread across the country, often living in villages that are remote and situated a long distance from services available from the Department of Social Welfare, the Myanmar Women’s Affairs Federation, and NGOs,” said Maciej Pieczkowski, programme manager of the International Organization for Migration (IOM) in Myanmar.

“Just raising awareness in the country of origin is not enough,” said Ohnmar Ei Ei Chaw, national project coordinator of UNIAP.

“The countries of destination, too, should take action effectively against the industries that use cheap labour and exploit the workers… The international community needs to put pressure on those countries of destination.”

* Not his real name

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Theme(s): Economy, Gender Issues, Human Rights, Migration,

[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]