In recognition of Thailand’s National Anti-Trafficking in Persons Day 5 June, the Australian Government funded ASEAN-ACT aims to spotlight approaches that protect and assist victims of human trafficking in Thailand. The Happy Shelter model of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security is a leading example in the region of specialised support to victims of human trafficking.
Human trafficking is a crime with profound physical and psychological harm to individuals, and wide-ranging impacts to the community, country, and region.
As Thailand’s key responder to trafficking in persons, the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security (MSDHS) has a strong nationwide presence providing both temporary and long-term shelters for Thai or non-Thai trafficked victims.
Last year, 220 victims of human trafficking and forced labour were protected and assisted by the Thai Government, according to Thailand’s Country Report on Anti-Human Trafficking Efforts 2020. Of this number, 148 were sheltered with consent in government and non-government shelters.
Thailand has set up temporary, 24-hour government shelters for children and families in every province and provides separate shelter for victims of human trafficking and forced labour for women and girls, men and boys so that services, such as protection, legal, medical and rehabilitation, are specific for each group.
MSDHS recognises the importance in the care of victims who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer, and intersex (LGBTQI+). A new policy has been implemented to set up one shelter to protect and support LGBTQI+ victims, in addition to a particular area setup in every shelter. However, collaboration with licensed private shelters is required to provide ongoing services in the future.
In response to the global pandemic, MSDHS provided quarantine measures for victims arriving from both within Thailand and from abroad. Shelters conduct COVID-19 testing following victim identification, as well as additional public health measures such as quarantine for new arrivals, temperature checking, mask wearing, social distancing, and support from nurses.
What is Thailand’s Happy Shelter model?
This year, MSDHS will focus on the "Happy Shelter" model which seeks to lessen trauma through creative approaches.
- The Team Building Camp has been running for three years and provides a space for trafficked victims to share experiences through recreational activities that also prepares them to reintegrate back into society.
- The One Shelter One Partnership project collaborates with local civil society agencies to deliver occupational training that provides sustainable income and employment opportunities for victims. This model considers the individual needs of trafficked victims, aims to prevent re-victimisation and hopes to inspire other victims to start a new and stable life.
- The mobile app Protect-U enables victims and witnesses to request protection and assistance by sending location coordinates using their phones. The app is another channel that allows MSDHS to coordinate with relevant authorities to help trafficked victims.
- The LINE Smile activity, using Line Application, has given sheltered victims a way to connect with families during the New Year’s celebration due to restrictions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
- The Thai government through a cooperation agreement between MSDHS and the Ministry of Interior, were able to enable the free movement of trafficked victims in shelters under the law which grants special permission for foreign victims of trafficking and victims of forced labour to stay in Thailand.
- And last year, with support from the Australian Government funded ASEAN-ACT, a shelter in Phitsanulok converted a small house into ‘Hug Karn Arn’ (Love Reading) library stocked with over 100 books plus furniture. The transformed space assisted young female victims between 14 and 20 to continue their learning and self-development and support their wellbeing in a safe space.
How will Thailand continue to support trafficked victims?
The Royal Thai Government has been resolute in carrying out the national agenda of zero tolerance towards human trafficking. Working closely among relevant officials to improve processes and procedures for human trafficking cases has also been an important focus for the Government. This includes training on victim identification, online investigations, and the use of victim-centred approaches. Protecting the human rights of trafficked victims is an important part of the criminal justice response to trafficking in persons and should take place regardless of whether they participate in the criminal justice process. By increasing the number of registered privately-run shelters, Thailand aims to further enhance options for victims of trafficking so they can voluntarily select a shelter of their choice.
As mentioned in the 2020 Anti-Human Trafficking Country Report, the Thai Government also seeks to further improve the referral system with clear procedures starting from victim identification and considers the reflection period in determining each victim’s or potential victim’s appropriate duration of shelter stay.
As part of the protection process, the Government’s Anti-Human Trafficking Fund will continue to provide financial support and capital to start a new life. In 2020, the Thai Government delivered over USD $250,000 in total remedies and compensations from the fund to victims of trafficking.
Collaboration across all sectors - government, justice, non-government, civil society, and private sector - continues to be a priority, which the Australian Government supports through the ASEAN-Australia Counter Trafficking (ASEAN-ACT) program.
Despite a global pandemic, human trafficking in the ASEAN region continues to deceive and exploit men, women and children of different sex/gender, ethnicity, age, disability, and migration status. This means identifying, protecting, and assisting victims of trafficking is not a one-size-fits-all approach. It is this individualised and non-discriminatory approach which is at the heart of Thailand’s ‘happy shelter’ model that makes it not only special, but critical.
The Australian Government funded ASEAN-Australia Counter Trafficking program recently conducted a study on shelter practices for trafficked victims in the ASEAN region. The focus of the study was on the freedom of movement for trafficked persons. To download this study, visit aseanact.org/resources.
Contact the Division of Anti-Trafficking in Persons, MSDHS at firstname.lastname@example.org