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Human smugglers roundtable: Sine Plambech

When happiness is a daughter in Europe, anti-trafficking policies don’t save you.

What are the intended/unintended consequences of anti-smuggling and anti-trafficking policies?

Anti-trafficking policies and the fear of women being trafficked into the European sex industry is making it increasingly difficult for migrant women from the global south to get legal visas to enter Europe.

Women from Thailand are one of the largest groups of women migrants working in the European sex industry. Twenty-five years ago Thai women did not need visas to enter Europe, but now many are only able to obtain tourist visas for just eight days. They willingly borrow and risk thousands of euros to pay for their trip, then seek to earn as much money in the sex industry as possible before they are deported.

While governments worry about trafficking and smuggling, migrant communities still build their hopes on women’s migration.

The dilemma is that while governments worry about trafficking and smuggling, migrant communities still build their hopes on women’s migration. They are less concerned with the risks of trafficking.

In Isaan, the poor region in the northeast of Thailand, most villages have benefitted from sex work migration to Europe. The money goes to houses, hospital stays, children’s education and long-distance retirement savings. Thai women migrants in the sex industry are often wrongly described as sex slaves and victims of trafficking. Rarely are they understood as women who migrate to Europe in a deliberate decision to support their families. For this reason, anti-trafficking policies severely lack the perspective of the migrant women themselves and their families. What is needed is to keep the moral panic about sex work at a distance and deal with the global reality that makes Thai women and other migrant women travel to work in the sex industry. 

About the author

Dr. Sine Plambech is a post-doc anthropologist at the Danish Institute for International Studies (DIIS) and a former research fellow at Columbia University in New York. Her research interests include Nigerian sex workers in Europe and their deportation, as well as the sex work and marriage migration of Thai women. She combines her academic work with directing documentaries, most recently Becky’s Journey. This has so far resulted in four award winning documentaries on the topics of international migration, sex work and human trafficking. Follow her on Twitter @sineplambech.


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