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New USAID Program Aims to Protect Victims of Human Trafficking

FILE - Unidentified Thai suspects of human trafficking appear at a news conference at police headquarters in Bangkok, Thailand, Aug. 4, 2015.

The United States on Thursday committed more money and a new plan to combat human trafficking in Southeast Asia, following the East Asia Summit.

"To support this stronger focus on human trafficking and irregular migration challenges, President [Barack] Obama announced USAID's comprehensive, five-year plan of action," White House officials said in a statement.

The U.S. Agency for International Development plan will commit $12 million in the first year to protect and compensate victims of human trafficking — an issue that experts and workers say is often overlooked when authorities focus on prosecution.

Matthew Smith, co-founder of the human rights organization Fortify Rights, says Thailand in particular lacks policies that ensure protection for victims.

"Thailand continues to detain survivors, refugees, men, women and children. This is a problem. When refugees aren't protected, then the risk of human trafficking is increased," Smith told VOA. "Civil society does need to be supported. It's a huge problem here."

Smith said he is confident that increased resources and funding in the region will support organizations that can influence their governments' policies.

"Inasmuch as resources will contribute to that, we do believe that it will have a positive impact on policies in Thailand," he said. "It's a positive step for the Obama administration to be committing more resources to combat human trafficking."