Letter from Empower in Thailand to the UK Home Secretary protesting raids done in the name of anti-trafficking.
Letter from the sex worker collective, Empower in Thailand to the UK Home Secretary protesting about the harm done to sex workers by raids done in the name of anti-trafficking.
Dear Amber Rudd MP, Home Secretary,
Empower Foundation, Thailand.
Empower is a Thai organization promoting rights and opportunities for sex workers in Thailand for over 30 years. Empower is predominately led and managed by sex workers. More than 50,000 sex workers have been part of Empower since our founding in 1985. Empower has been recognized nationally, regionally and internationally for our human rights work including receiving the Best Human Rights Organization of Thailand awarded by the National Human Rights Commission. Empower is respected by policy makers and UN agencies.
We have heard with great concern about the raids and arrests of sex workers in Chinatown and Soho on the night of Thursday 20th October. The English Collective of Prostitutes has reported that 12 people were taken by immigration – we believe some of them to be Thai women, mothers, workers and family providers,
For 15 years we have experienced similar abuses of rights in Thailand in the misguided notion that these raids in some way reduce exploitation. The raids have spectacularly failed to reduce exploitation or to address society’s concerns about prostitution. Violent raids and punitive policy have however increased corruption; increased the barriers to justice that migrant sex workers must climb over and created a more dangerous and precarious working environment for the very women it purports to be helping. This failure has been acknowledged by the anti-trafficking network in Thailand headed by your British Honorary Consulate in Chiang Mai, Mr Ben Svasti. (For full report on its failure and alternative suggestions see Hit & Run
Our concerns :
- Our countries, Thailand and the UK have a similar population size. Every year half a million UK citizens come to Thailand, far less than Thai people travelling to the UK. The UK guests come without a visa and are welcomed on arrival. However the process for a Thai woman travelling to your country is not the same, We face a visa system which is heavily bureaucratic and we feel as though it discriminates against us for being Thai, women and working class. The legal system of travel is a horrible and uncertain process. Corrupt authorities and brokers in both countries offer a much better service. We are treated politely as their customers, the process is simple and it is 100% certain we will be able to travel. Thai women, like most people do not want to break the law but people cannot be expected to put unjust and unfair laws before their dreams of building a better life for themselves and their families. If your aim is to reduce exploitation and crime, including but not limited to trafficking, then we suggest that the visa services offered by the UK government should be at least as attractive and accessible as those offered on the black market.
- Thai people admire the UK as the most civilized of countries and we believed your laws were enlightened.Therefore we are very confused about the conduct of police in the raids. Under Thai Law there must be special reasons for raids to be carried out after 6pm (nightfall). This is in recognition that police raids are terrifying and violent events that can be dangerous for those impacted. Why in the UK are police allowed to conduct raids against small unarmed women under the cover of darkness? If the purpose of the raid was to “crackdown on slavery” when no slavery was found why didn’t the police apologize and move on? Why were women then arrested for administration offences that have nothing to do with slavery trafficking? Does British law allow police to do one-stop shopping by entering a premises on one warrant then shop around for other possible crimes and offences?
- All evidence shows that when women can work together we are more able to assert our rights, protect ourselves and each other. As a woman we think you must have learned yourself the truth of this old adage ‘there is safety in numbers’? By working together in flats and parlors, including employing others, women are providing themselves and each other with the safety net that the police are unable or unwilling to provide for them. We do not understand why police are then encouraged to destroy that safety net. How is it better to have women working in isolation from each other and cut off from protection and services they have a right to access? A safe healthy workplace is the right of all workers, including sex workers.
- All laws have sections outlining penalties and also sections that outline the rights and protections to be provided. Are the women impacted by the raids whether via loss of income, assault on dignity, or detention being provided with their full rights according to your laws and international human rights standards? We are concerned that the key organization concerned with the promotion of their rights, i.e. English Collective of Prostitutes (ECP) has no access to information or reliable proof that their treatment in detention is being monitored and their rights fully respected.
- These rights would include their rights as workers to be awarded any and all the money they have earned. ECP shared media reports that £35,000 was seized by police during the raids. Obviously any money on the premises was earned by the women and must be returned to them. If not, would it be true the State is benefiting from the prostitution of others and risk facing charges for ‘living off the earnings’?
- The old brothel areas of many cities around the world were once on the outskirts of the more popular suburbs. Now globally we can see that many occupy prime real estate like in Soho London, Dolly and Yogykarta,Indonesia, Tangail, Bangladesh, Kings Cross Sydney and De Wallen, Amsterdam to to name but a few. All around the world poor communities are facing land grabs e.g. farmers, slum communities, indigenous peoples. We are all engaged in the same struggle. In some countries the government and developers use blatant force in other more ‘civilized’ countries they use the police in the name of trafficking, crackdowns or clean-ups. We understand that as Home Secretary you carry responsibility for the police. If this is so, then you must not allow the police in your charge to be used in this way any longer. Aside from the human rights abuses it entails, the harassment, raids and arrests of working mothers is not dignified work for British police. You are in the position to restore the dignity of police and enable them to put women’s safety first..
322 Chiang Mai Land, Chiang Mai Thailand