Pattaya Daily News

14 April 2008 :: 14:04:24 pm 30011

Thailand Must Improve Its Migrant Policy If It Not To Receive International Condemnation

The recent death of the 54 Burmese migrants in a container in Ranong, on April 10 represents, but the tip of the iceberg. Human rights lawyers and labour rights activists in Thailand say that violence against Burmese migrant workers is on the increase. They accuse Thai authorities of doing too little to protect Burmese working in Thailand.
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The Migrant Worker Group, a coalition of NGOs, cited at least documented 10 cases in which more than 100 people had died being transported to Thailand in the past year. Since the beginning of 2008, scores of Rohingya Muslims from Burma have drowned in the Andaman Sea in an attempt to reach Southern Thailand, However, rather than help, Thai PM Samak Sundaravej has recently announced he will detain them on a deserted island to deter more arrivals.

“These preventable deaths are the tragic result of people fleeing repression and poverty in Burma, only to find abuse and exploitation in Thailand. Thai policies denying migrants basic rights contribute to such tragedies and urgently need to be revised or scrapped. These deaths put Thai authorities squarely on notice that reform cannot wait,” said Elaine Pearson, Deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch.

Over 2 million Burmese migrants are estimated to be working in Thailand, less than 500,000 of them legally. Yet the numbers rise steadily?the lure of jobs and the hope of a better life outweighs all the uncertainty and threat of physical danger, murder and exploitation that these people suffer.

Nearly 20,000 registered Burmese migrant workers work in the Mae Sot area of Thailand’s Tak border province with Myanmar, where cases of abuse are particularly high. Moe Swe, head of the Yaung Chi Oo Workers Association in Mae Sot, said because migrant workers were reluctant to get involved with the police, many incidents go unreported. Unregistered migrants fear deportation if they complain to the authorities

800 cases of abuse, including murder and rape, were reported to the Seafarers Union of Burma from mid-2006 to November 2007. Union member Ko Ko Aung maintained 30% of the reported cases involved murder. It appears some Thai employers resort to murder, rather than pay their migrant workers.

Adults are not the only victims of Burma’s instability, children are also represented. Here estimates are vague, there being no official statistics, but NGOs cite 20,000 as a generally accepted figure. The economic crisis and instability in Burma is driving hordes of Burmese children into hard labour, begging and the sex trade, claims exiled Burmese rights groups. Paw Ray, the chairperson of the BMWEC, which operates nearly 50 schools for children of Burmese migrant workers in Mae Sot maintains “there’s no security and no protection for migrant workers or their children. Neither the authorities nor employers can give them security.”

With many Thais avoiding mundane, dirty and dangerous work in agriculture, fishing and construction, and Myanmar’s generals refusing to improve their crippled economy, Thai officials say the influx of cheap, migrant labour will continue.

However, most Thais are unaware of the positive contributions that migrant workers make for Thailand. Estimates of their contributions amount to Bt370 billion, or about 6.2 per cent of Thailand’s GDP and the average unskilled migrant earns between 50 and 80% of the average unskilled Thai. Yet it appears as if the Thai political leaders, captains of industry and ordinary citizens – who most benefit directly or indirectly from migrant labour – have conspired to suppress such information. Those who benefit most in the absence of any genuine attempt to regulate the inflow of migrants from Burma, Cambodia and Laos are unscrupulous Thai employers bent on exploiting labour to maximise profits.

And Thailand continues to treat these people with utter contempt and prejudice. In fact, it appears the more Thailand comes to depend on migrant workers for its economic and social well-being, the worse the Thai people treat them.

Successive governments, including the outgoing Surayud government, have been complicit in the systematic exploitation of migrants, for failure to secure borders, and lax enforcement of laws relating to immigrants and their employers.

Human Rights Watch maintains “If Thailand’s labour laws were followed across the board, fewer migrants would resort to illegal crossings or be susceptible to trafficking, and could travel and work with basic rights under law.” They continue

“It’s time for the Thai and Burmese governments to implement transparent measures that protect the lives and basic rights of migrant workers.”

Reporter : PDN staff   Photo : Internet   Category : World News

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