Burmese officials have opened a new temporary shelter to support victims of human trafficking who were rescued or have escaped and are now preparing to return home.
The shelter, located in Kawt Thaung town, Tenasserim Division, opened on Thursday with support from the Japanese government. It will accept 25 men and 25 women who were trafficked from Burma into neighboring countries, especially Thailand. They will stay at the shelter for about two weeks before returning home.
“We aim to support the victims with temporary accommodation before they are reunited with their families,” Min Khaing, a police official on Burma’s Anti-Trafficking Task Force, told The Irrawaddy. “They will also be provided with health care, mental health care and counseling for trauma from staff of the social welfare department.”
The shelter is the first of its kind on the Thai-Burma border. The Japanese government supports a similar shelter in Muse, Shan State, which assists mostly Burmese women who were trafficked and forced to marry men in neighboring China.
Burmese and Thai government officials have long collaborated to rescue trafficking victims, particularly Burmese men who were forced to work as fishermen in Thailand and Burmese women who were forced to work in the sex industry there.
Both governments have anti-trafficking task forces, with the Thai group working in Ranong Township and the Burmese working in Kawt Thaung.
The Thailand-based Foundation for Education and Development and the Myanmar Association in Thailand (MAT), which also assist trafficking victims, say they will transfer their cases to the new shelter in Tenasserim Division and collaborate with government officials to ensure victims can return home through the official channel.
There are other shelters available in Thailand, but according to the Bangkok-based MAT, trafficking victims are often required to live in these for anywhere from six months to one year, much longer than many would prefer.
Htoo Chit, director of the Foundation for Education and Development, said he had spoken with the head of Burma’s Anti-Trafficking Task Force to ensure effective collaboration.
“We will transfer our cases to the government shelter. So far we have two women cases,” he said, adding that he had concerns about the resources available at the shelter in Tenasserim Division.
Kyaw Thaang, director of MAT, said he welcomed the new shelter, which he said would not pose problems of language and cultural barriers like the shelters in Thailand. However, he said he worried the shelter might not be able to offer enough social and psychological support.
“People who were trafficked are often already depressed. Even in Thailand, they face further forms of exploitation and social insecurity [at the shelters], where civil society groups have been effectively working in this field for decades,” he said. “I wonder how the Burmese will overcome these issues, given that many of the civil servants tend to treat the poor people badly.”
MAT has assisted 625 trafficking victims since 2012, but the number of new cases is rising, Kyaw Thaung said.
Aung Myo Min, a prominent human rights activist and director of the Rangoon-based Equality Myanmar, said it would be important for social workers at the Burmese shelter to understood the victims’ rights and treat them appropriately.
“They have already been traumatized by their harsh experience. The staff must support them with care and kindness, rather than treating them like criminals,” he said.
“The shelter’s disciplinary system must protect the victims’ dignity. It should not be about punishment,” he added.