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“They don’t want to go back home with empty pockets,” said Khamhoung, who frequently handles Lao trafficking cases in Thailand.
Reintegration Gaps Vahn, now 17, is one of the few to have been repatriated after nearly one year in the custody of Thai officials, who used her as a witness to convict the karaoke bar’s owner.
Not enough is being done to identify and reintegrate victims in the Greater Mekong Sub-region that includes Laos and Thailand, according to a study released late last year by the Coordinated Mekong Ministerial Initiative Against Trafficking (COMMIT), a multinational project to combat trafficking.
“Having to cope on one’s own was challenging and stressful, and it sometimes left trafficked persons in very fragile positions – both socially and emotionally,” the study says.
There are roughly 470,000 trafficking victims in Thailand, which is ranked 24 out of 162 countries in modern slavery prevalence.
Laos is ranked 30, with an estimated 50,000 victims, the 2013 Global Slavery Index reported.
But Thai government shelters assisted 271 victims in 2012, just 0.06 percent of the estimated number of victims in the country.
The report added that Laos passed a long-awaited plan of action to fight human trafficking in 2012 but it still has not been implemented.
“It should put more effort in counter-trafficking and take the initiative on implementing it.” In Laos, a transit center for trafficked victims is partially funded by the government, but victim services are almost entirely financed by NGOs and international organizations whose projects can be delayed by the government’s “internal inefficiencies” to grant approval on them, according to the US State Department’s 2013 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report on Laos.
Corrupt law enforcement and village leaders have been known to facilitate the transport of girls as well, says the report.
Besides not being identified, victims can go unassisted due to inadequate services, limited information on services, weak referral systems or victims accepting their exploitation as normal, according to the COMMIT study.
This lack of assistance to help victims escape a trafficked life sometimes leads to them being re-trafficked, the study added.Xoukiet Panyanouvong, the Laos coordinator for UNIAP, told The Diplomat that the Lao government must take ownership in counter-trafficking, a practice that remains heavily reliant on foreign donors.