Burma’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs has described a decision by the US State Department to downgrade the country in its annual ranking of the world’s worst human trafficking offenders as “regrettable”.
In a statement released on Thursday, the ministry said that the move to reduce Burma to Tier 3 — the lowest possible status on the annual report — comes at a time when the country’s new democratic government has been tackling human trafficking as a “national priority”.
“It is regrettable that the 2016 Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report of the US Department of State drops Myanmar [Burma] from Tier 2 Watch List status to Tier 3,” the statement said, noting that the decision could “hamper cooperation between Myanmar and the United States”.
The Tier 3 ranking, which went into effect because Burma has already spent four years at Tier 2 without any marked improvement of its record on tackling human trafficking, could be used to impose new sanctions on the country. However, in other cases, a presidential waiver has been applied to avoid harming bilateral relations.
The move comes less than a week after Burma’s Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi, who is also the de facto head of the country’s National League for Democracy (NLD) government, concluded a trip to neighbouring Thailand that focused heavily on improving the status of the millions of Burmese migrants working there.
On the issue of “irregular migrants cast adrift in the Indian Ocean — an apparent reference to Rohingya boat people fleeing sectarian violence in Arakan State — the statement was careful to avoid any suggestion that the government was responsible for anything other than their safe passage back to their country of origin, noting that most of them “were proven not to have originated from Myanmar.”