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The situation of Uzbek women in Thailand.

The emergence of Uzbek women working in Thailand has recently come to public attention, the Thai media has reported on the issue since 1999. It became intensified during the period of 2000-2002. Studying the figure of these migrant women, it clearly shows that the number has rapidly grown from 2,595 in 1999 to 5,017 in 2000. However, the only knowledge Thai people have on these women is that they are white sex workers. The media portrayal of these women is that they are simply ladies of the night who have chosen with their own will to work illegally in prostitution outside their own country. Moreover, some of the women also involved themselves with international drug trafficking. Such media report has formed public prejudice against them and hampers better understanding of the complicated hardship behind their lives.

In order to comprehend situation of the newly emerged group in the international migration and trafficking, FFW organized a series of small group discussions in the Bangkok Immigration Detention Centre in 2002. The purpose of this is to learn about the situation, the pull and push factors for migration and the needs of these women. The result from the discussion has made us well aware of their lives and problems during their stay in Thailand. The findings from the series of these meeting show that a high number of Uzbek women, though migrate with consent, are victims of the international human trafficking. There is a network of traffickers at the local, regional and international levels who provide and facilitate their travel and job placement in order to control their lives at the destination. FFW has compiled the information and prepared this report in order to raise public awareness on the plight of these women, and to call for cooperation from the concerned agencies.

Background Information about Uzbek Women

The following information was collected from the series of group discussions between Uzbek women and FFW, which were carried out during August to December 2002. The group consisted of about 10-15 Uzbek participants, and Russian was the language used in conversation. The participating women are of mixed groups. Half of them are Russians (white complexion and fluent in Russian language), the other half are natives of Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan (with darker complexion and many were not well-versed in Russian). The participants had been staying in Thailand ranging from 10 days to 5 years, the average of 5 months-1year with age between 19-30 years old or average of 21-25 years old. Their average education level is secondary and vocational school. One of them has a Bachelor Degree. The literacy rate of Uzbek women is equal to that of industrialized countries. Women are married at a young age i.e., 16-17 years old. 80 per cent of the participants were married and have children. Half of the married women are divorced. Three women are housewives while, others are students, sale persons, self employed, telephone operators, discotheque employees and teachers in Uzbekistan. Their average income is between US$3-20 per month. The reason for coming to Thailand is to work and send money back home. Some of them were informed about the type of work available for them in Thailand. Samarkand and Tashkent are the major cities where most of these women came from. The dramatic increase of number of Uzbek migrant women and men may draw attention with particular interests here. (See table 1).

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Situation of Trafficking of Women in Uzbekistan

The figure of international migration for both educated and uneducated women is growing sharply. Future Generation, a Tashkent based women NGO has conducted a survey on Uzbek women and found out that 85 per cent of them wanted to go abroad for whatever jobs available in foreign countries. Only 10 per cent were aware of the risks and negative aspects of such migration. The study confirmed that the numbers of young women eager to take up oversea jobs are increasing. The victims of international human trafficking are also growing in numbers.

Against this background, there is a law relating to human trafficking, which is under the Criminal Code of The Republic of Uzbekistan and has come into effective since 1994. According to the Chapter VI Offences Against Individual Liberty, Honour and Dignity, the Article 135, Recruitment of people for exploitation states, "recruitment of people for the purpose of sexual or other exploitation, committed through deception, shall be punishable ..." The state of Uzbekistan has given signature to the UN Convention Against Transnational Organized Crime and the Supplementary Protocol to Prevent, Suppress and Punish Trafficking in Persons Especially Women and Children, yet there is no law that provides a legal definition of the term human trafficking or provision of assistance to trafficked women and children.

Factors contributing to migration

According to the information gathered from the group discussions in the IDC, factors pushing women to migrate to Thailand and other countries can be summarized as follows:

1) Unemployment, insufficient income and family burden

Some women, who participated in the group discussions, disclosed that they used to be teacher or accountant back home, but they only made US$ 40 per month. While many other women must take part- time job with very low paid and no welfare or other benefits. Most of the women who decide to migrate overseas have family obligations and/or are single mothers.

2) Myth of other women's success stories.

Some of the women have seen other Uzbek women, who went to work in foreign countries and returned home with wealth and fortune. They were able to start a new life. This is the major push factor to convince them to pursue the same suit, especially to the women who are in financial difficulties and having family burden.

3) Lack of opportunities to get employment and job security

Though the literacy and education rates in Uzbekistan are considerably high, Uzbek women are still lacking of opportunities to pursue higher education and get decent employment. In order to be able to enter college and/or having secured job they need to pay application fee and commission. Women without connection are deprived of these opportunities. And such fee does not secure women for their long- term employment.

4) Deceived by the agents

Women are persuaded to work overseas by the agents. These agents only inform them the good parts of migration. For example, that the women would have a well-paid work and a lot of money within few months.

Women trafficking network

The economic and family factors are crucial push factors that have easily drawn agents closer to women. In some cases, desperate women approach agents to find them employment overseas. Half of the women participated in the discussions said that it was their first time to come to Thailand. There is a close cooperation between recruiting agents in Uzbekistan and partners in Thailand and other destination countries. All of the women told that Uzbek agents that work with Thai Madame, Korean and Russian partners, accompanied them.

The active role of agents and their cross borders collaboration have rapidly flourished the business and seduced more women to work overseas. The luring patterns of women trafficking network can be described in the following:

1) Overseas job--placement company

Many agents or job-placement companies in Uzbekistan offer a well-paid job available for women with no requirement of education, technical skills or working experience. During the interview, they will lure women by promising them a high salary with fringe benefit such as free food, clothing, housing and medical care, for working overseas. For coming to work in Thailand, the agency will provide them air ticket free of charge.

2) Persuasion by friends and/or acquaintances

The agents may work with friends or acquaintances of women who finally introduce potential migrant women to them. This type of agents presents themselves as ordinary housewives. After the woman share their hardship the agent will offer her to work in Thailand. The agents inform women the nature of work, which is sex-related with the promise of high salary and other fringe benefits. This type of agents, for most of them, used to engage in prostitution themselves and later they have moved to become procurer and/or Madame.

The agents also encourage and facilitate the decision for women's overseas migration by the promise to pay in advance for the necessary costs including arranging travel document, visa, air tickets and others. The period of the whole preparation may take from three days to maximum one month to get ready for the trip to Thailand. The cost for arranging this is around US$ 1,500-2,000, which then is credited as debt and will be returned to the agent by deducting from women's earnings in Thailand.

The economic depression, coupled with a strong persuasion by experienced migrants cum agents, are the decisive pushing factors for many young Uzbek women to take up offers that engage themselves in providing sexual services in Thailand. These women are made to believe that making quick money is easy and possible. Women who are facing difficulties at home; such as a responsibility to take care of children on their own, and unable to find a secure work, make a choice of their own for labour migration and/or overseas prostitution in the hope to make enough money to achieve a better life. Many of them have realized in the end that they are in great debt and fall into the situation that they are deprived of the right to self-determination and depend highly on the network of trafficking agents.

3) Newly emerging phenomenon: international drug trafficking network

Drug traffickers also aim at using women from Eastern European countries to smuggle and/or deliver narcotics. It was learned from the media that currently, some of the Uzbek women, who have engaged in sex industry in Thailand, are fallen in drug trafficking trap. Due to their western appearances, they are less vulnerable to be observed or controlled than Asian or African women. That is why drug traffickers from Nigeria, China or Pakistan use them to smuggle drugs. The situation is getting worse, when these women were forced or lured to take drugs until they are addicted and eventually, have become part of the network.

Travel Route

At the beginning of the international migration/trafficking, countries of destination for Uzbek women are United Arab Emirate (UAE), Bahrain, and Malaysia. Recently, Uzbek women are strictly controlled for entering UAE, while the Malaysian government has started to pay more attention on Uzbek women entering and leaving the country.

An Uzbek woman, who participated in the group discussions, told us that according to the new UAE's immigration law foreign women are only allowed to enter the country with their husbands. This measure has made it too complicated for them, as well as the cost of entering the country has become more expensive. They need to hire someone to accompany as their husbands and pay extra cost for their tickets.

After arrival Thailand, the agent will take women to meet the mama san or papa san and the trading of women will take place only between the agent and the mama/papa san. Women are not allowed to participate in the negotiation on the type and condition of work, and remuneration etc. They must comply with the conditions whatever agreed upon between the agent and mama/papa san. The mama/ papa san normally keeps the women's passports in order to control their mobility. The women will be under the control of the mama/papa san, until they have paid off their debt ranging from US$ 500-2,000. Half of the women, who participated in the group discussion, have just arrived in Thailand. Uzbek agents who have worked in Thailand before have accompanied nearly all of them.

For some women, Thailand is only a transit country where the arrangement is made for them to work in other countries as for example Malaysia, Cambodia and the Far East. Uzbek women could get visa on arrival to enter the kingdom without any difficulty. But due to the growing number of Uzbek women involved in prostitution this regulation was changed and now women need to apply entry visa from the Thai Embassy in Moscow.

Debt bondage and confinement

Generally, the travel expenses from Uzbekistan to Thailand costs approximately US$ 500 or Baht 20,000. However, for the Uzbek women, who come to Thailand by agents' arrangements, have to accept the debt for the amount of US$1,500-2,000. The pay back period was not certainly fixed. Some of them spend 6 months to end their debt, as their actual income is always lower than what they have been promised.

The mama/papa san always keeps women's passports if their debts are not fully paid back. In some cases, the mama/papa san keeps all their income earnings in a bank account. The mama/papa san would then deduct their expenses from the account.

Debt bondage is not the only obligation that confines these women to the hard work in the sex industry. A visa enabling women to legally enter and stay in the country is another problem for them. In entering the kingdom, they would get a visa on arrival (at the airport). This visa is valid for 24 days only. Consequently, visa extension is the other burden for them and binds them to an agent or a mama/papa san to undergo visa extension process. This process will cost them US$ 300. The cost will be accumulated in their personal expenses and made their debt-bonded work as well as the hardship longer.

Uzbek women do not have bargaining power with their papa/mama san. The women have to comply with their arbitrary rules and demand. In some cases women have to pay doubly the price of their debt. As in a case of Lena who had already worked six months for a papa san as a show girl, when she decided to quit since she was not able to save any money from the work. She thought that she had repaid all her debt of the amount US$ 2,000, but the papa san told her that she still owed him US$ 186 for her visa extension. Lena thus, had to work longer to make more money to clear her debt and set her free from the papa san and the debt-bonded sex work.

Elena, who engaged in the mobile sex service, expressed her wish for a break after hard working period. Her papa san was upset since she was a big money maker for him. He told Elena that if she wanted a break, she would better pay off her debt first and then return home. She had to comply with his order but after working for 4 months, Elena became an old face for customers, then the papa san sent her back home for exchanging of the new Uzbek women.

Types of Work

Uzbek women work in different work places where they have to perform sexual services to local and foreign men. According to women participating in the group discussion they have involved in the following types of work:

1) Stripping/exotic dance show

The shows are popular among Chinese tourists, who visit Pattaya. Apart from the shows if requested by customers, sexual services are also available from the Uzbek women.

2) Mobile sex service

The demand for sex services involving Uzbek women is expanding beyond Bangkok. Some women revealed that papa san organizes mobile sex service to provinces such as Khon Kaen, Korat, Chiangmai, Krabi and Rayong. The coming of Uzbek women will be regarded as special offer for local entertaining place at each destination. For this type of work, women may earn about US$ 500 per month and get extra pay if they can entertain over 60 clients per month. The salary will be deducted in order to pay off the debt.

3) Work in hotels and apartments

Uzbek women in Bangkok mostly work in the second-class hotels located in tourists and entertainment centres such as Soi Nana (Sukhumvit), Pratunam and Rama 9 road. Their mobility is strictly controlled by the mama san. The amount of Baht 2,000 (US$ 46) per service will be deducted from their income in order to cover Baht 1,000 (US$ 23) for a room and another Baht 1,000 (US$ 23) for paying back the debt.

4) Freelancing

Uzbek women, who have paid off their debt, prefer to work on their own to finding clients in the streets or bars. Although, they earn less than before, they have advantages on working on their own will without anyone to control. They have more freedom and able to choose their clients themselves. They can keep their own passports. However they are prone to street violence and easily targeted by the police and become victims of arbitrary arrest.

5) Drug trafficking

According to the drug suppression police, it was found that Uzbek sex workers are too vulnerable to be manipulated by international drug trafficking network. They will be paid 200,000-300,000 Baht (US$5,000-7,500 $) to carry 3 kgs of heroine per trip. The compensation will be varied to the amount of drug substances. Women, who are bored of doing sex work and want to return home, have been easily trapped by drug trafficking ring. During August 2001, 2 Uzbek women Leila and Elaine were arrested. They were accused of smuggling heroine. In September the same year, another Uzbek woman was charged of trafficking 1.3 kgs. of heroine.

Marriage with Foreigners

Apart from labour and prostitution migration through legal and illegal channels, Uzbek women seem to have very limited choices to make their living overseas. Some of them decide to marry foreigners, whom they met through their work in the hope of having the better lives and a happy family. They wish to have a baby in Thailand because they believe that having a child may give them a better status. But living with foreigners can bring another tragedy to their lives. Their newly found partners mostly are unemployed and get involved in crime-related activities such as dealing in drugs, bloody diamond etc. Some of the women have experienced violence from their partners. They may not have the rights to have child custody if they live apart from their partners. Without proper assistance women who fall into such situation decide to end their lives.

Arrest and Deportation

Two authorities, namely local police station and immigration office, normally conduct the arrest of foreign migrant workers. Most of the Uzbek women are charged with over staying their visa, which will be fined at maximum of Baht 2,000 and the charge on prostitution with the fine of Baht 1,000. They will also be put on the black list and not allowed to enter the kingdom ever again. In the case of possessing the fake visa, a four to six months jail term will be applied.

The IDC collaborates with the consulate of Uzbekistan in Bangkok to issue travel document for women who do not have passport. Women and their family and/or agencies working in the IDC will cover the cost of return ticket.

Conditions in the IDC and the Women's Needs

While staying in the IDC, Uzbek women have to adjust to the living conditions in a crowded room sharing with women of other nationalities. They also have difficulties in communication with other women since most of them speak only Russian and limited English. Apart from this they also do not have money to purchase the air ticket for the deportation and transportation fee from the IDC to the airport. In case women can pay for their return ticket NGOs working in the IDC try to arrange the cheap air tickets for the women. If the women cannot get help from anyone including their family at home, they have to join a long waiting list of the NGOs in the IDC who are arranging for the return trip of detainees. The waiting period will take at least eight months until women can return home. Further, many of the Uzbek detainees have no passports. The Uzbek Consulate Office in Bangkok will issue temporary travel document. This document is valid for one month and costs US$30. Actually, the cost for the travel document should be waived for these women who have experienced hardship and having only little or no money.

During the discussion women have expressed the needs that after deportation and arriving home, they expect that there may be someone to meet them at the airport, that they have a temporary place to stay, that they can get a job to support their family. They, however, realize that the present situation in Uzbekistan is difficult for them to start a new life. They want to have jobs, get married, and have their own families, receive some vocational training, do some business or migrate to work in other countries. They do not want to be 'prostitutes'. Some of them asked whether they could work in Thailand if they have IT (information technology) skills. Some want to become a baby sitter and many want to return and work legally in Thailand.

Conclusion

Labour migration is one option for the Uzbek women in the search for better life. This makes them vulnerable to exploitation and being manipulated by human trafficking networks. The strict immigration policies of the countries of destination are another factor pushing these women to rely on human trafficking networks to facilitate the travel with visas and job placements. The job opportunities for the women seem to be narrowed down to only a few occupations and sex work is among these alternatives to them.

However, the consent of these Uzbek women to work in the sex industry does not mean that they agree to work in exploitative and/or slavery-like condition. Some of these women have their passports confiscated by the agents or are sold to different Thai mama sans just like commodity and without their consent. The transaction of the women has involved the trafficking network in many countries. Women do not know the conditions of work, the place/country they are transported to, and the amount of debt they need to pay back. From this perspective, it can be concluded that many of women detainees should be considered the victims of international human trafficking.

According to the definition of human trafficking in the 2000 U.N. Trafficking Protocol, the core elements of human trafficking include 1) the process of taking a person from origin to destination place 2) the method used in the movement and 3) the purpose of exploitation. It can be assumed that by applying the U.N. Trafficking Protocol, most of Uzbek women detainees are victims of international trafficking. Thereby they are entitled to access social remedies and legal justice outlined in the Protocol and propagated in the Thai MOU. The agencies in Thailand should extend support to Uzbek women and advocate for their rights as trafficked victims and as migrant women.

Elena's case best illustrates the work of international human trafficking ring. She was trafficked to Thailand by an Uzbek agent, who had network connecting with a Korean pimp residing in Thailand.

Elena got married when she was seventeen years old. She finished her secondary school and worked as a sale person in a department store. After a while the company claimed bankrupt and she did not get her salary and became unemployed. Unfortunately, her mother was sick and Elena urgently needed money to provide her medical treatment. Subsequently, she took the offer to work in the sex industry in Thailand. Elena was offered this job by an agent who approached her and told her that she herself had been in the business in Thailand before. This woman met one Korean man in Thailand and he asked her to return to Uzbekistan to recruit some young girls to work for him.

Note: the full report can be obtained from the Foundation for Women.
COPYRIGHT 2004 Foundation for Women
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Title Annotation:Foundation for Women
Publication:Voices of Thai Women
Geographic Code:9UZBE
Date:Jul 1, 2004
Words:4000
Previous Article:Cross-border trafficking of women and children: current situation and forms of assistance.
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