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People wait in line as Thai police collect data as part of their investigation into the murder of two British tourists on the island of Koh Tao. (Photo: Reuters / Chaiwat Subprasom)
CHIANG MAI, Thailand — At least two Burmese migrant workers were beaten by Thai police during their investigation into the murder of two British tourists on the southern Thai island of Koh Tao, one of the alleged victims has claimed.
Si Thu, a Burmese migrant who was interrogated by police on Sept. 19, told The Irrawaddy, “While I was answering [the questions of police], a Thai policeman showed a photo to another detainee called Lin Lin and asked if it was his photo. He answered no and the policeman kneed him in the back, saying he was lying.
“Then, the police asked him if he killed those tourists. When Lin Lin answered that he didn’t, the same policeman hit him again,” said Si Thu, who added that he himself was hit over the head when the police took him from his home on Sept. 19, but was not beaten while under interrogation at the police station.
Two British tourists, Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, were murdered in the early hours of Sept. 15. Despite several leads and potential suspects, mystery remains over the identity of their killer or killers.
According to Thai news agencies, scores of Burmese migrants working on the island were interrogated and had their photos taken along with DNA samples. On Monday, Thailand’s Deputy Police Chief Pol-Gen Somyot Pumpanmuang said that the DNA test results of 30 Burmese migrant workers did not match DNA connected to the murders.
Up to 1,000 Burmese migrants work at restaurants, hotels and construction sites on the island and most of them do not have visas or work permits, Soe Min Htet, who has been working on the island for more than four years, told The Irrawaddy. Burmese migrants are so concerned that they are even scared of going to work following the police interrogations, he said.
“We feel like we are not safe as there are no people to help us. Here, our citizens are vulnerable to unfair treatment and are always looked down upon,” he said. “Because the victims are British, the police are taking it seriously. If our citizens die, no one cares.”
Burma’s Ambassador to Thailand Win Maung said the embassy was keeping a close eye on the treatment of Burmese migrant workers by Thai police on Koh Tao. He said that the Burmese Embassy had contacted the Surat Thani Province police force chief and was continuously reporting developments in the murder investigation to Naypyidaw. “We can’t intervene in their legal interrogation. But if there was any overstepping of boundaries, we would raise an objection with the Thai authorities,” said Win Maung.
Htoo Chit, executive director of the Thailand-based migrant rights group Foundation for Education and Development, said the Burmese government should work together with their Thai counterparts to legally protect Burmese migrant workers. He said Burmese migrants were bullied in Thailand because the Burmese government did not pay enough attention to its citizens. “It has become a custom that Burmese citizens are unfairly detained and beaten if something bad happens in Thailand,” Htoo Chit said.
By: Kyaw Kha, The Irawaddy
On 22 May 2014, two days after declaring Martial Law, Thailand’s military took power for the second time in eight years. Under the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) the military abrogated all but one section of the 2007 Constitution, sacked the government, dissolved parliament and assumed full control of the country. As this report will show, the NCPO has undertaken a series of measures that have altered Thailand’s institutional and legal framework. The human rights violations detailed in this report also reflect long-standing human rights problems in Thailand.
Laotian and Thai authorities have held talks this week on regulating Lao migrant workers in the Kingdom, a senior Laotian government official has said.
Registration began in June and would be complete next month, Dr Bounma Sitthisom, deputy director-general of the Skill Development and Employment Department under the Laotian Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, said yesterday.
Those who have been registered have received temporary permits allowing them to work legally in Thailand until next March.
“Officials on both sides are currently holding talks on how to work together to legalise the migrant workers,” Bounma said.
Laotian authorities are expected to travel to Thailand to work with their Thai counterparts to set up a one-stop service where illegal migrant workers can obtain legal documents.
“The issuance of legal documents to these workers will expire in March next year,” Bounma said, adding that the outcomes of the talks were still unavailable.
The talks focused on four main issues: how to prove the workers’ nationality; registration of labourers in the fishery industry; measures to deal with Laotians workers who are at the end of the four-year stay allowed by the Thai government; and how to deal with workers who cross the border to work in Thailand and return to Laos daily, according to the NNT.
Bounma warned all illegal Lao workers to register with the Thai authorities so they will be eligible to apply for documents that will enable them to work legally in Thailand for four years in line with a memorandum of understanding the two governments had signed.
“Only those workers who have been registered will be eligible to apply for legal documents,” he said.
According to the MoU on labour cooperation between Laos and Thailand, a Lao with legal documents is allowed to work in Thailand for two years, with the chance of another two-year extension.
After reaching the four-year limit, the worker must return to Laos and work there for three years before being permitted to return and work in Thailand again.
The Laotian government recently set up temporary service centres at border checkpoints. They remained open until August 24 for the purpose of registering Lao workers who were expected to return from Thailand, after the Thai authorities took tough action to regulate foreign workers in the country.
The registration process, which compiles information on the returnees, aims to help returning workers to seek other employment opportunities.
Bounma said registration at these checkpoints was being finalised.
Over the past days thousands of Cambodian workers have fled Thailand amid fears of a crackdown on illegal labor. Thailand expert Kim McQuay examines the reasons behind the exodus and the potential economic implications.
Since the May 22 coup, at least 120,000 Cambodian men, women and children have left Thailand and crossed back to their country amid fears of a crackdown on illegal migrant workers, according to estimates by the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
The exodus began en masse after Thai army spokeswoman Sirichan Ngathong said on June 11 that the junta viewed illegal workers as a “threat” because “there were a lot of them and no clear measures to handle them, which could lead to social problems.” Five days later, the junta denied they were pursuing a “sweep and clean” policy of driving illegal foreign workers out of the country.
In a DW interview, Kim McQuay, The Asia Foundation’s country representative to Thailand, says rumors have played a significant role in triggering the mass exodus, but also points out that, beside refuting the reports, there is little indication that the junta is taking significant measures to stop the flow of migrant workers.
DW: When did the exodus begin?
Kim McQuay: For the last several days, there has been a mass exodus of Cambodian migrant workers from Thailand back to Cambodia. While there have been occasional references to related movements of migrant workers from other neighboring Southeast Asian countries such as Myanmar and Laos on a smaller scale, attention has focused on Cambodian workers, based on the striking scale of movement among this particular population.
How many foreign workers have left the country so far?
Estimates have tended to focus on Cambodian migrant workers, with the figures cited by different formal and informal sources varying by several tens of thousands. Observers have tended to place particular confidence in the accuracy of estimates provided by the International Organization for Migration (IOM), which has swiftly mobilized to provide logistical and other support for the returning Cambodian workers and ease the chaos of movement at Poi Pet and other border crossings.
The IOM estimates that at least 120,000 Cambodians have returned home in the last week, with the volume of movement across the border increasing significantly by the day.
What is driving the chaotic exodus out of Thailand?
The exodus appears to have been propelled by a combination of factors, with rumors playing a significant role. Since the Thai military leadership staged a coup on May 22, the junta has focused considerable attention on the national economy and on addressing issues associated with illegality or lack of enforcement of existing laws and regulations.
While it is not clear at this point just how strict a formal position the junta has taken with respect to illegal migrant workers in general, or to Cambodian workers in particular, recent statements by the authorities have referenced illegal migration among a list of ills to be addressed. Rumors of a pending crackdown appear to have had a double impact: first, on Cambodian workers who fear for their security; and second, on Thai employers who are concerned that authorities could impose harsh fines or other sanctions on businesses that employ illegal migrants.
There are people from many nations working in Thailand. Why are mostly Cambodians fleeing the country?
A combination of factors may account for the mass exodus of Cambodian workers. While estimates vary, it appears that a significant number of Cambodian migrants either failed to enter Thailand through formal channels or allowed their formal legal status to lapse, and that they would accordingly be especially at risk of a strict enforcement crackdown by the junta.
In addition, Cambodia has oddly and indirectly figured in the political tensions that have gripped Thailand for the last decade. A strain of Thai nationalism associated with the anti-Shinawatra Yellow Shirt movement has routinely cast aspersions on Cambodia. This unfortunate phenomenon has most recently focused on unsubstantiated allegations that the pro-Shinawatra Red Shirt movement enlisted Cambodian migrants to swell its ranks.
What can you tell us about the people who are fleeing?
Like those from other neighboring countries, Cambodian migrants come to Thailand with the hope of escaping poverty. While they may earn more in Thailand than they would at home, the modest opportunities that await place them at the bottom of the Thai economic strata. There have been reports in recent days that returning Cambodians face severe economic hardships as they cross the border with little more than the shirts on their backs, with many lacking the resources needed to travel from the border to their home provinces.
How important are these workers for the Thai economy?
Estimates suggest that Thailand hosts as many as three million migrant workers from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, and other neighboring countries, a significant percentage of whom entered Thailand illegally. With Thailand’s advancement to upper middle income status, migrant workers fill a bottom niche that is critical to several branches of the Thai economy, including unskilled industrial labor, the construction industry, seafood processing, and domestic labor.
The post-coup exodus of Cambodian workers has stirred a wave of concern as observers reflect on the implications for the Thai economy if the exodus should spread more broadly through the migrant labor population. To the extent that recent events have been partly by fueled by unchecked rumors, one hopes that a campaign of reliable information will ease the concern that must be surely be building within the broader migrant population, as well as putting remaining Cambodian workers at ease.
What is the junta doing to stop the exodus?
While the authorities have been swift to refute reports that migrant workers have been subject to threats or abuse and to underline the contributions of migrant labor to the Thai economy to quell concerns about the broader economic implications, there is little indication that the junta is taking significant measures to stop the flow of migrant workers out of Thailand.
How likely is it that these workers will return to Thailand under the military junta?
In any context of this kind, a mass exodus can be swiftly triggered while a reverse movement tends to be infinitely slower and hesitant. Considering the fact that migrant workers often go to a considerable degree of effort and make substantial personal investments to travel to another country in hope of economic opportunity, one imagines that it will be no easy thing for Cambodian or other migrant populations to return to Thailand, even if they were made to feel very welcome and secure.
Kim McQuay is The Asia Foundation’s country representative to Thailand.
By: Gabriel Domínguez,