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Myanmar migrants hit by Thai junta’s labour moves

Publication Date : 18-06-2014


About 1,000 Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand were rounded up from June 3 to June 9, before the junta announced its new policy of dealing with illegal labour in the country.

Reports say that more than 50 migrant workers were sent back to Myanmar on June 13 via the Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge, but data on how many were rounded up after the junta announced its new policy on June 10 has not been released.

Roundups of migrant workers are conducted on a daily basis. Officials in Chiang Mai yesterday briefly detained more than 100 foreign workers while they were standing at a site where migrant workers queue for jobs. All were released after showing their documents.

Sirigorn  Leardchayopit, an officer of Raks Thai Foundation, said that Myanmar migrant workers in Samut Sakhon, home to hundreds of thousands, do not flee Thailand en masse.

"They have been hiding at temples and forests, avoiding police and military officers who keep on knocking on their doors and make arrests. Last night, they were here at 4pm and stayed until 5pm," she said.

According to the Joint Action Committee for Burma Affairs (JACBA) based in Mae Sot, Thailand, most of the Myanmar workers were detained in Tak province, including the border town of Mae Sot in Tak province. In Mae Sot district, some 300 Myanmar workers were arrested on June 3 in combined operations carried out by soldiers, immigration officials and border security forces.

“There have been reports of mass arrests and deportation,” said Andy Hall, international affairs advisor at the State Enterprise Workers Relations Confederation of Thailand and advisor to the Migrant Worker Rights Network. “Businesses in Mae Sot, particularly those involving in fruit, vegetable and retailing, are complaining about labour shortage. Of course, they flow back and forth a lot in Mae Sot. The difference is the number of those voluntarily leaving
is not the same.”

Thai authorities say they are targeting undocumented migrant workers.
Thailand has a total migrant worker population of 2.23 million, including 1.82 million who entered the country illegally, Thanich Numnoi, deputy director-general at Thailand’s Department of Employment, told reporters yesterday. Of the total, 1.74 million are from Myanmar, 395,000 from Cambodia and about 96,000 are from Laos, Thanich said.

It is estimated that half of the Myanmar migrant workers do not have proper documentation.

In the northeastern province of Buri Ram alone, there are 750 legal foreign workers with Cambodian, Myanmar and Lao nationalities while an additional 194 are waiting for their nationality to be verified.

Labour ministry official Anant Klankhayan today visited factories that employ foreign workers and insisted that there was no crackdown as rumoured. He noted that this is to calm employers and employees' fears, following the mass panic that led over 100,000 Cambodian workers to flee the country, leaving many enterprises with a shortage of workers.

He said that the situation had calmed down somewhat and urged employers to ready documentation for each foreign worker and submit the data to provincial officials. This will facilitate inspections and prevent the employment of illegal workers, he added.

The exodus of Cambodian workers continued though National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) spokesman Winthai Suvaree insisted yesterday that the junta has no policy to crack down on foreign workers.

Thanit said most Cambodian workers had returned home because their four-year contracts had expired. Some, he added, had returned for work on farms as the planting season in their country had started. However, many had panicked about the political situation in Thailand and the recent rumour that people were being shot, he said.

Foreign Ministry Permanent Secretary Sihasak Phungketkeow had a 30-minute meeting today with Cambodian Ambassador to Thailand Eat Sophea to explain the Thai policy on migrant workers and asked her to convey to her countrymen a better understanding of the situation involving Cambodian workers in Thailand.

Hall suspected the diplomatic relationship between the two countries comes into play, given that 80 per cent of migrant workers are from Myanmar but the policy seemed to have more negative impacts on Cambodian workers. An exodus on this scale is normally due to natural disasters like floods, he said.

According to JACBA chairperson Moe Gyo, some Myanmar detainees were charged and remanded for drug offences and illegal gambling in addition to violating immigration law.

Detained Myanmar migrants would be sent back across border towns like Tachilek, Kawthoung and Myawaddy.

“Some have been in hiding near forests and farms. In cities, they stay in locked apartments without making any noise,” said Moe Gyo. Many have been hiding in remote location, such as farms and obscure buildings, in order to evade detection.


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