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Is Asia Getting Out Of The Human Trafficking Business?

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No one is interested in vying for the worst human trafficking record, but Asia would certainly be in the running. Yet, today’s Business Insider claims that Asia is getting out of the human trafficking business; can that be true?

As usual, the truth is more nuanced than a headline allows. It may be that the traffickers and smugglers are getting craftier, but it is also true that global pressure has caused traffickers in Myanmar and Thailand to – at the very least – pause their “business as usual.” Myanmar, with its horrible track record on human rights towards the Rohingya (a Muslime ethnic minority), suffered greatly in the world press as it became known that thousands of trafficked people have been caught at sea, unable to come ashore and in miserable conditions.

Most of the would-be migrants of the last two months never sailed in the end because of the crackdown, she said. They were kept offshore and many were subsequently taken back – for a fee.

Even if the Thai government has dealt a blow to the smuggling trade, many argue that only by tackling the root causes will Southeast Asia’s cycles of migration stop. U.S. President Barack Obama called last week on Myanmar to end discrimination against its 1.1 million Rohingya minority.

Myanmar denies it discriminates against the Rohingya.

The government does not recognize them as an ethnic group and denies them citizenship. It classifies them as Bengalis, implying they are illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, even though many have lived in Myanmar for generations.

With the discovery of mass graves of alleged trafficking victims in Malaysia, a police general is quoted as saying all the traffickers had “run away.” This seems unlikely. Those individuals who may work on the fringes of trafficking or traffic only a few people have likely found another way to make a living for the time being. Certainly those who are making a great deal of money have yet to be deterred from trafficking in human beings. They have not been caught or punished, and they can afford to wait out a “crackdown” that may or may not last.

Unless or until we stop making the buying and selling of human beings profitable, human traffickers won’t hang out the “Going Out Of Business” sign.

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Elise Hilton Communications Specialist at Acton Institute. M.A. in World Religions.

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