The government increased efforts to identify and protect victims. The government identified 414 trafficking victims in 2021, compared with approximately 231 victims identified in 2020 and 868 in 2019. The 414 trafficking victims identified included 151 male and 263 female victims; 72 child victims; 312 Thai, 94 victims from Burma, two Laotian victims and six from unspecified countries; and 181 victims of sex trafficking and 233 victims of labor trafficking. Of the 414 victims identified in 2021, the government reported providing services to 354 (compared to 148 victims identified in 2020), including through the provision of shelter, reintegration support, legal assistance, financial assistance, and other support; 128 received assistance in government shelters, while 20 victims resided in NGO government-registered shelters.
Of the 233 labor trafficking victims identified by Thai authorities in 2021, 109 were Thai victims forced to work for an online gambling website identified in coordination with Cambodian authorities; by the end of the reporting period, the government had identified a total of 227 Thai victims exploited in Cambodia. Authorities identified 90 migrant labor trafficking victims exploited within Thailand in 2021, including two exploited in the fishing sector. Despite reports traffickers exploited children in forced labor in various sectors, the government only identified two child labor trafficking victims in 2021. Authorities did not identify victims in part due to a lack of understanding of labor trafficking among many authorities. In March 2022, the government approved SOPs for the identification of labor trafficking victims and implementation of the 2019 forced labor amendment of the trafficking law (Section 6/1). Labor inspectors and members of the Royal Thai Navy screened migrant workers for trafficking during inspections, including during inspections of fishing vessels. However, inconsistent and ineffective interviewing practices during inspections left many labor trafficking victims unidentified, including among migrant fishermen. Observers also reported labor inspectors did not understand that part of their role was to identify trafficking victims. In an attempt to improve the effectiveness of inspections, the Ministry of Labor (MOL) developed guidelines in March 2022 to improve inspectors’ ability to identify potential cases of trafficking and authorized inspectors to conduct identification interviews of potential victims; under the new guidelines, inspectors were required to report suspected trafficking cases to law enforcement and MDTs to conduct formal identification interviews. NGOs raised concerns that officials did not screen undocumented migrants for trafficking, particularly those fleeing political instability in Burma, and often detained and deported migrants without screening.
MDTs, which included representatives from government agencies and NGOs, utilized standard screening guidelines to formally identify victims and refer them to services. Adapting to pandemic-related restrictions, some MDTs conducted online victim identification interviews. Officials did not effectively implement identification procedures consistently throughout the country, in part due to a lack of understanding of trafficking among some officials. Some officials utilized practices during victim interviews that hindered the ability of victims to recount their exploitation, such as allowing employers of potential victims to be present during victim interviews. NGOs reported improvement, however, in the use of victim-centered approaches by some RTP officials when conducting victim interviews. The government relied on MDTs, which sometimes included local police officers, provincial MSDHS staff, and local labor officials who at times did not have sufficient experience working trafficking cases, to confirm an individual as a trafficking victim. To address gaps in victim identification among provincial level officials, the government established teams that traveled to support less experienced MDTs in the identification process.
Section 29 of the anti-trafficking law permitted officials to take potential trafficking victims into the government’s custody for no more than 24 hours, or up to eight days with the permission of a court. During this period, MDTs conducted victim identification interviews; formal identification by MDTs was necessary for victims to obtain a legal right to services, including access to the government’s trafficking shelters. This process acted as a significant barrier for some victims who were not physically or psychologically prepared to undergo the MDT identification process to obtain services. Furthermore, the absence of a suitable reflection period in which victims could access stabilizing services from the government did not allow officials sufficient time to build rapport and trust with victims, including to obtain sufficient information to make a formal identification and to encourage victims’ participation in investigations. In some cases during the reporting period, officials provided victims with additional time to recover before initiating the identification process. In March 2022, the government approved a new NRM, which included guidelines for the screening, identification, and protection process, as well as the extension of a 45-day reflection period to enable officials to provide services to potential victims prior to their formal identification. The government solicited feedback from civil society on the draft NRM prior to its approval.
In December 2021, DSI established a human trafficking victim identification center to accommodate potential victims, prepare them for identification interviews, and to serve as an operations and training center for relevant agencies. The government continued to refer victims formally identified by MDTs to government-operated shelters where they had access to counseling, legal assistance, medical care, civil compensation, financial aid, witness protection, education or vocational trainings, and employment opportunities. While MSDHS reported providing some services to victims who did not agree to participate in the prosecution process, authorities often made the provision of many services contingent upon victims’ willingness to participate in law enforcement investigations. MSDHS operated 76 short-stay shelters and nine long-term regional trafficking shelters, including four dedicated to adult male victims and families, four for female victims, and one for male child victims. The government typically only permitted foreign victims who held a valid visa or work permit at the time of their identification to stay outside government shelters during legal proceedings against traffickers; during the year, 13 victims employed as domestic workers resided with their employers, a common practice for domestic workers in Thailand. Authorities sometimes required undocumented foreign victims of trafficking to remain in government shelters while the government processed applications for permits to temporarily stay and work in Thailand. MSDHS trafficking shelters did not allow some victims—including adults—to leave without permission, which authorities determined on a case-by-case basis; only victims who received permission to work outside shelters could leave the shelter on a regular basis for work. Furthermore, authorities often required victims to stay in shelters until the completion of proceedings or advanced testimony against traffickers, even in cases in which they were physically and psychologically ready to exit the shelter system. In addition, shelter staff sometimes restricted victims’ access to personal cell phones, particularly at the beginning of shelter stays, sometimes required victims obtain permission to make personal phone calls, and often monitored their calls. MSDHS did not implement a consistent policy across all shelters to guarantee victims’ rights to communication; however, the government reported it permitted victims who had completed the process of participating as witnesses in prosecutions against traffickers to use communication devices without supervision. Officials said these measures were taken to ensure the victims’ safety and to prevent re- victimization; however, requiring victims to remain in shelters longer than necessary, combined with the restrictions on their movement and communication during shelter stays, may have contributed to some victims’ re-traumatization and inhibited their ability to earn an income. In one region, officials cooperated with an NGO to develop an open- concept shelter, where authorities provided victims full freedom of movement and access to communication devices on a short-term basis.
The government permitted some victims residing in shelters to obtain outside employment; however, for some foreign victims, especially Rohingya, the government did not identify suitable employment opportunities and some shelter officials cited fears Rohingya would “flee” shelters as a rationale for restricting their freedom of movement. The required shelter stays continued to deter foreign victims from cooperating with law enforcement, with some preferring to be deported to their home countries instead. The government permitted some victims to reside and obtain services at three government-registered NGO shelters; victims preferred to stay at these shelters over government- operated shelters, in part due to more freedom of movement. Victims obtaining these services could still obtain compensation from the government’s anti-trafficking fund; however, the government did not provide these shelters with additional funding to support their operations. In addition, observers reported that strict requirements for NGO-operated shelters to receive permission to assist formally identified victims made it challenging for additional NGOs to obtain this registration. The government implemented a 7- to 14-day COVID-19 quarantine for victims before they could enter government shelters.
MSDHS shelters employed inconsistent policies and provision of care to victims. Government shelters often lacked adequate numbers of psychologists and staff trained on trauma-informed care, inhibiting victims from obtaining psycho-social care. Shelters did not always provide victims with individualized care or private counseling and instead relied on group counseling sessions with social workers. In 2021, however, shelters began using individual development plans that increased victims’ input into their assistance needs. MSDHS reported all shelters had the capacity to provide temporary accommodation to LGBTQI+ victims, and one shelter could provide long-term accommodation; however, the long-term shelter did not provide separate bedrooms and restroom facilities for LGBTQI+ victims. In addition, aspects of the identification process made it difficult for LGBTQI+ victims to express their gender preferences, and authorities often did not ask victims their shelter preferences. MSDHS conducted a training for its shelter staff on services for LGBTQI+ victims. MSDHS did not equip its shelters to provide adequate accommodations for victims with disabilities and often lacked sufficient numbers of interpreters, especially for Rohingya victims, which weakened their ability to provide adequate services to victims. NGOs reported interpreters who participated in victim identification interviews and in court proceedings were not always trained to assist in trafficking cases and inappropriately communicated with victims, sometimes by attempting to convince victims to not report their exploitation or recommending they confess to crimes traffickers compelled them to commit. MSDHS collaborated with an NGO to provide training for shelter staff on protection issues, provide MDT officials training on trauma- informed care during the identification process, and develop an online training course for officials providing psychological care to victims.
Authorities facilitated the return of 245 Thais exploited in trafficking abroad, including 13 sex trafficking victims and 232 labor trafficking victims; the government reported all 245 victims chose not to utilize shelter services and returned to their hometowns, and MSDHS monitored their reintegration to prevent re-victimization. In 2021, the government provided 4.13 million baht ($123,650) to trafficking victims from its anti- trafficking fund (compared with 7.63 million baht ($228,440) in 2020), including 1.12 million baht ($33,530) that went to victims residing outside government shelters for living expenses, payments for work inside shelters, education, medical care, and other expenses. NGOs reported the process for victims to access this fund was complex, which likely prevented some victims from obtaining necessary monetary support. Thai law legally obligated prosecutors to file restitution claims when a victim expressed intention to make a claim. The Human Trafficking Criminal Procedures Act allowed judges to award compensation or restitution to victims, including in the absence of a victim request for these funds. The government filed restitution claims in 25 cases in 2021 and reported courts ordered 10.7 million baht ($320,360) in restitution for victims, a decrease compared with 26 million baht ($778,440) in 2020. MSDHS provided legal assistance to victims to file compensation claims and ensure enforcement of orders; however only two cases resulted in the successful execution of restitution orders. Thai law permitted foreign trafficking victims and witnesses to stay and work in Thailand for up to two years upon the completion of legal proceedings against traffickers; however, the government did not report extending this benefit to any victims during the reporting period.
MSDHS operated a mobile application for trafficking victims and witnesses to report exploitation and request protective services, including interpretation, and it provided information on the rights of trafficking victims in seven languages; 46 potential trafficking cases were reported through this application in 2021, compared with 32 in 2020. MSDHS and MOL operated hotlines with operators fluent in 19 foreign languages. In 2021, the MSDHS trafficking hotline received calls related to 64 possible trafficking cases, which were referred to relevant agencies for investigation, including 12 involving forced labor and 31 involving commercial sex (70 cases in 2020).
The law protected victims from prosecution for unlawful acts traffickers compelled them to commit; however, flaws in the government’s implementation of victim identification procedures increased the risk of authorities penalizing victims, including for prostitution and immigration violations. This deterred some undocumented foreign victims, who likely feared risks of arrest and deportation, from reporting their exploitation to authorities. Observers reported that some employers retaliated against migrant workers, including potential trafficking victims and activists seeking to improve working conditions, including by dismissing workers. In addition, Thailand’s criminal defamation laws continued to allow companies to pursue criminal charges against potential victims and advocates, sometimes through strategic lawsuits against public participation, which resulted in advocates facing years of legal harassment. Observers continued to report these types of cases deterred advocates and victims from reporting exploitation. In one case involving Thai sex trafficking victims exploited overseas, the government secured bail and provided legal representation to the victims after the alleged offenders filed criminal defamation charges against the victims. Despite making amendments to the Criminal Procedure Code in March 2019 that would enable courts to immediately dismiss cases filed with dishonest intent or to intimidate defendants, as well as amendments in February 2019 that strengthened the rights of defendants in cases where their employers filed criminal defamation charges, the government did not report utilizing these amendments to drop criminal defamation charges pursued against advocates or victims.