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September 24, 2017

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Thailand dismayed by place on US trafficking blacklist

BANGKOK -- Thailand said Saturday it was disappointed with a decision by the U.S. State Department to blacklist it for its failure to do enough to fight human trafficking but vowed it would keep fighting the scourge.

The United States lowered Thailand to its lowest rank, "tier 3," and highlighted trafficking in the country's sex, seafood and garment industries, in its annual assessment, released Friday, of how governments around the world have performed in fighting trafficking. The downgrade could exact a reputational cost on Thailand's lucrative seafood and shrimp industries, for which America is a key market.

U.S. President Barack Obama now has 90 days to determine whether to apply sanctions, which could include blocking various types of aid or withdrawing U.S. support for loans from the World Bank and International Monetary Fund.

Sihasak Phuangketkeow, permanent secretary of Thailand's foreign affairs ministry, argued the Southeast Asian country had stepped up its efforts to combat the trade and hundreds of people had been prosecuted, including state officials.

The U.S. downgrade does "not match the reality or facts regarding the Thai government's" efforts, Sihasak said. "I'd like to reiterate that what we are doing right now, to combat human trafficking, we are doing it because it is the right thing to do. We are adhering to human rights and humanitarian principles. We are not doing it to respond to any ranking of any countries."

Thailand's democratically elected government was overthrown in a May 22 army coup. Sihasak said the junta that now controls the country has made it a "priority to tackle the human trafficking problems."

The downgrading of Thailand to tier 3, which signifies that a country isn't fully complying with minimum standards for eliminating trafficking, puts its alongside countries such as Iran, North Korea, Russia and Saudi Arabia. A total of 23 countries received that ranking.

The report said there are tens of thousands of trafficking victims in Thailand by conservative estimates, the majority of which are migrants from Thailand's neighboring countries who are forced or defrauded into working against their will in the sex trade, commercial fishing, garment production, factories, and domestic work. Other victims are forced to beg on the streets.

It described how some migrants remain at sea for several years, working 18 to 20 hours per day for seven days a week, facing threats and beatings. It notes Thai civilian and military officials reportedly profited from the smuggling of minority Muslims from Myanmar and Bangladesh, and their sale into forced labor on fishing vessels.

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