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Illegal migrant workers [sic] arrested, en route to Malaysia

SONGKHLA: Fifteen illegal Myanmar workers crammed inside a pickup truck, and the Thai driver, were arrested in Bang Klam district of Songkhla in the early hours of Wednesday.

A police team had waited near a deserted petrol station in tambon Tha Chang following information an attempt would be made to smuggle illegal migrant workers from Chumphon province to Sungai Kolok district of Narathiwat, on the border with Malaysia.

They spotted a suspect black pickup truck with Chumphon licence plates travelling the road around 2am.

They followed it and came across the pickup stopped on the side of Lop Buri Ramesuan Road in Bang Klam district with a burst rear left tyre.

A search uncovered 15 illegal migrant workers crammed inside the cab and lying down in the bed of the truck covered with black netting.

Driver Phongyut Noiwaree, 36, of Chumphon, was also detained.

Police said the illegal migrants were destined for Malaysia. They extended the investigation, which led to the arrest of nine more illegal migrant workers from Myanmar at a construction camp in Hat Yai district of this southern province.

All were held in custody at Bang Klam police station pending further investigation police expected would lead to the arrest of those organising the smuggling.

Illegal migrant workers in the bed of a pickup truck after a rear tyre burst in Bang Klam district, Songkhla. (Photo by Assawin Pakkawan)

Lured by money, Myanmar maid finds ruin in Singapore

“Just open your mouth, baby daughter. I will feed you. Open your mouth again, Baby Thet Khaing Soe,” the woman whispered as she slowly and carefully lowered a small spoon to the lips of a young lady lying motionless on the wooden floor with her head resting on a pillow.

The heart-rending scene could easily be from a Myanmar tearjerker movie but it was the first thing we saw recently upon entering the dilapidated house of Daw San San Aye, 45, in remote Alalkhone village in Ngaputaw township, Ayeyarwady Region.

Daw San San Aye was feeding her 24-year-old daughter, Ma Thet Khaing Soe, who has been in a coma for months since she was suddenly sent to hospital in Singapore by her employer.

What happened to her is a mystery, and it is difficult for the family to seek help because Ma Thet Khaing Soe was an illegal worker in the city state, where the Myanmar government has banned sending domestic help. Migrant activists say the ban leaves the maids unprotected and easily exploited.

For four months, Daw San San Aye has been looking after her daughter, who apparently cannot feel anything. Her legs shake but her hands are lifeless; her eyes are unresponsive and remain open day and night.

“I am often jolted from sleep in the middle of the night. I get up to check if my daughter is breathing or not. I am so scared,” the mother said.

Road to ruin

Alalkhone village is eight hours by bus, motorcycle and boat from Yangon. There is no electricity. Villagers live on rice cultivation, which can only be done during the rainy season as there is no irrigation.

Ma Thet Khaing Soe’s family relies on the earnings of the father for their daily survival. The eldest of four children, she decided to help the family by working at a garment factory in Yangon.

But life was still tough and Ma Thet Khaing Soe had big dreams. She was determined to improve the family house; she wanted her siblings to finish school; she wanted her mother and father to operate a food shop so their daily needs could be met.

The spunky, winsome village lass, who only finished elementary school, finally saw a chance to make her dreams come true by working as a maid in Singapore.

She heard about the government ban and the horror stories about maids being abused by their employers in the city state. Still she took a gamble.

Ma Thet Khaing Soe flew to Singapore last May with the help of the same broker who smuggled her cousin to the city state. She agreed to the broker’s terms of the first six months of her salary as the fee.

“We talked once on the phone after she got to Singapore. She told us her job was OK,” said Daw San San Aye.

But, she found out later that Ma Thet Khaing Soe had told her cousin about the hardships she faced, including not being fed well by her employer and taking care of seven dogs.

Later on, Ma Thet Khaing Soe called her cousin to ask her advice about how to go back home, as her working conditions were bad.

Ma Hla Hla Win (not her real name), who also works in Singapore, was among those who visited Ma Thet Khaing Soe while she was unconscious in the hospital in the city state in July.

Ma Hla Hla Win said she found out that Ma Thet Khaing Soe had been abandoned by her employer.

Ma Thet Khaing Soe was treated at the hospital for one and a half months with the help of a migrant rights organisation, Christian charity and other donors, according to Ma Hla Hla Win.

Daw San San Aye said the broker had told her in July that her daughter was just suffering an ordinary illness. It was only through social media that she learned the real condition of Ma Thet Khaing Soe. “I went crazy when I learned about the real situation,” she said.

In August last year, Ma Thet Khaing Soe was returned to Myanmar in a coma. She was treated for two months at Yangon General Hospital, but her condition did not improve.

In November, the family brought her back to the village as no one could take care of her at the hospital and hiring a caregiver was beyond their means.

Groups criticise ban

Migrant rights activists and workers feel that the government ban on sending maids to Singapore does not achieve its purpose and only results in the smuggling of domestic workers to the island, which exposes them to greater risk.

The government banned the sending of workers in Singapore in March 2014 amid disturbing reports of abuses and labour rights violations.

But an estimated 50,000 Myanmar maids are still working on the island, through the help of dishonest brokers and unlicensed agencies, according to the Humanitarian Organisation for Migration Economics (HOME) in Singapore and the Myanmar Overseas Employment Agencies Federation.

Many of the maids are 14 to 20 years old, a violation of Singaporean law, which has a minimum age of 23 for foreign workers.

But the lure of working as a maid in Singapore is powerful, as they are paid up to S$450 (K510,000/US$334) per month, way beyond what they can earn in this country.

There are an estimated 240,000 foreign maids in Singapore. Among them, Myanmar maids are believed to be the most abused and exploited, since they are sent there illegally and do not have the necessary training and skills for household work, according to migrant rights activists.

Ma Hla Hla Win recalled that there was another Myanmar maid in the house where she was working who did not know how to iron clothes.

She said that other foreign maids, such as from the Philippines and Indonesia, are well-paid in Singapore as they are sent legally, have been well-trained, and have the full protection and support of their governments.

Ma Kitty Aye Mar Mar, a volunteer at HOME, said communication problems also led some employers to lose patience and beat Myanmar maids. She said that Myanmar maids have no access to language training.

Some Myanmar maids have been threatened by their agencies or brokers not to leave abusive employers.

“The maid ban exposes women working abroad to more trouble,” said Jackie Pollock, chief technical adviser for migration projects at the International Labour Organisation (ILO) in Myanmar.

Myanmar women who want jobs as maids are also charged exorbitant brokers fees because of the ban.

They have difficulty finding help and protection when they face problems, she said.

Pollock said the ILO is urging the government to lift the ban on sending domestic workers abroad so that the workers can be protected more effectively.

“If they sign a labour contract with the Singapore government, maids can have access to legal protections,” HOME volunteer Kitty Aye Mar Mar said.

The federation urged the Myanmar government to allow licensed overseas employment agencies to send domestic workers to Singapore.

U Myo Aung, permanent secretary of the Labour Ministry, said his office is discussing with employment agencies in Singapore how to protect Myanmar maids and ensure fair wages so that the ban can be lifted.

“Sending maids is not like sending other workers because each maid goes to a different employer,” U Myo Aung said.

If the discussions are successful, the Labour Ministry will likely lift the ban and sign a memorandum of understanding with Singapore on labour export.

A mother’s torment

Daw San San Aye despairs yet holds on to hope that one day Ma Thet Khaing Soe will wake up from her coma.

“We can’t send her to a clinic as we have no money. I can just hope that she would wake up one day,” she said.

Her family has gone into debt just to come up with the K400,000 they need each month to buy a special milk powder that her daughter needs.

Daw San San Aye said that she can only be thankful that her daughter has come back alive from Singapore as some Myanmar maids have returned from the island in wooden boxes or cremation urns.

“I am thankful I can still take care of my daughter. I will look after her like when she was a baby and hope that she wakes up one day. I will not expect her to work again if she wakes up. I just want to hear her jolly voice and have her keep me company in our house,” she said.

Written by Zaw Zaw Htwe
Source: Myanmar Times
Published on 22 March 2019
Link: https://www.mmtimes.com/news/lured-money-myanmar-maid-finds-ruin-singapore.html

[Malaysia] 1,485 illegals [sic] detained in nationwide integrated operation

KUALA LUMPUR: A total 1,485 illegals were detained in an integrated operation launched by the Immigration Department of Malaysia (IDM) nationwide from Friday midnight.IDM Director-General Datuk Khairul Dzaimee Daud said the detentions were the results of inspections by IDM with the co-operation of various agencies, including the National Registration Department and the Malaysia Civil Defence Force, on 3,750 aliens.“An operation conducted by the IDM headquarters nabbed 218 illegals from 418 aliens inspected at an entertainment centre and two houses in the Klang Valley for various immigration offences,’’ he said in a statement, Saturday.He said IDM had conducted 2,646 enforcement operations nationwide and inspected 40,321 people since Jan 1 until Thursday.

Of the total, 9,452 illegals of various nationalities were detained for numerous immigration offences, including overstaying, entering the country without valid documents and abusing the social visit passes.Khairul Dzaimee said 176 employers were also detained during the period while 151 had been charged in court and taken action upon.“From all the illegals detained, the highest detentions were from Indonesia (3,261), followed by Bangladesh (2,378), Myanmar (868), Philippines (849) and the rest were from other countries,’’ he said.

He said the Ministry of Home Affairs through IDM would take all the necessary steps and firm action to tackle the issue of illegals.He said the Government would not compromise in ensuring that employers and foreign workers complied with the country’s laws.The firm measure, he said, was necessary to overcome the problem of the influx of illegals into the country.

Source: Daily Express (Malaysia)
Published on 3 March 2019
Link: http://www.dailyexpress.com.my/news.cfm?NewsId=131868

Israel Recognizes Five Asian Men as Victims of Human Trafficking and Slavery

For the first time since 2010, Israel police have recognized five men as victims of trafficking for enslavement and opened three criminal investigations against their employers, suspected of holding them in prison-like conditions and coercing them to work without compensation.

All five men that police recognized have since been placed in shelters.

Police are also looking into the circumstances of their trafficking into Israel, they payment for them and their passports, which were taken away.

Two of the victims are Indian citizens, another two men are from the Philippines and one is from Thailand.

The probes have been going on for months. The police recognized the men as victims after finding “preliminary evidence” that they had been brought to Israel and held in slavery conditions. The maximum punishment for such a crime is 16 years in prison.

One of the cases was discovered a few months ago when the worker from Thailand was found at a gas station in the south in serious condition. The two other cases were brought to the attention of the police by social welfare organizations.

“These are very sensitive and unusual investigations that have a very high bar for proof,” said a senior official at the Justice Ministry.

“There is a need to prove that a deal was made with someone in a foreign country who had knowledge about the trafficking for the purpose of enslavement and that the conditions in which the men were held in Israel meet the bar set in legal rulings. The investigations also require investigative efforts overseas, so they take time.”

Among the suspicions being investigated are payments made in advance by the victims, the confiscation of their passports, and the allegation that they worked day and night seven days a week amid false-imprisonment conditions for no money, or minimal pay.

“They are made to work without a break; this is one indication of slavery,” the Justice Ministry official said.

Despite the rare recognition of men as victims of human trafficking, social welfare groups say the five are just an example of the many thousands employed under similar conditions in agriculture.

“In addition to praising what seems to be the beginning of the authorities’ work to identify the victims of modern slavery in Israel, we are also very worried that all those workers recognized are not rare and extreme cases but individual representatives of a very widespread phenomenon,” said Michal Tadjer, an attorney with rights group Kav La’oved – Worker’s Hotline.

“For years, civil society organizations, led by Kav La’Oved and the Hotline for Refugees and Migrants, have been warning about very dangerous models of employment where the road to modern slavery is very short. These models are not only continuing, but the trend of the past two years is to expand them.”

As she put it, it would be better if Israel prevented such employment, which includes paying astronomical sums to middlemen, binding the worker to an employer and reducing the mobility of workers, all “for a group that was long ago shown to be vulnerable to severe exploitation.”

Workers’ rights groups have long attacked the Interior Ministry and its Population and Immigration Authority, complaining about a lack of government supervision of agricultural employment.

Kav La’oved estimates that about 25,000 workers from abroad are employed in agriculture, most of them from Thailand. The organization accuses farmers of providing harsh conditions for employees, paying less than the minimum wage, and withholding information on their rights by exploiting their weak Hebrew.

Late last month the cabinet approved a multiyear plan to fight human trafficking, which included recommendations on stricter enforcement, prevention and cooperation with other countries.

It was decided to increase fines against anyone taking part in human trafficking, especially when it involves prostitution.

Also, the investigation of such crimes has been transferred to the investigative units at the district level. Finally, special units to address the problem and provide training in fighting human trafficking have been established.

Source: Haaretz
Written by Josh Breiner
Published on 3 February 2019
Link: https://www.haaretz.com/israel-news/.premium-five-men-brought-to-israel-recognized-as-trafficking-victims-1.6898796

New rules stink, say fishermen

SAMUT SONGKHRAM: Samut Songkhram is the smallest province in the country, but has been known as a hub for Thailand’s fishing industry for decades.

The province has a 23km shoreline, dotted with fishing piers.

Along its roads are food processing plants, and it is only an hour’s drive from Bangkok.

Not unsurprisingly, fishing is the most popular profession and almost all the jobs there are related to the sea in some way.

Yet those piers have been quiet recently, and the docks are deserted.

Many seamen sit and wait on the piers for trawlers to hire them out, but work has become scarce.

This stagnation began soon after the European Union issued the country with a yellow card for problems in the nation’s fishing sector and the government began imposing tough new protocols in an attempt to have it rescinded.

Some trawlers in Samut Songkram province have had to drop anchor after costs rose by 30%.

A yellow card means that a country could ultimately face exclusion of their fish from the EU market.

Commercial trawler owners lament that the government has killed fishing in Thailand.

“The golden age of fishing in Thailand is a thing of the past. The sector is entering its sunset period. I myself am thinking about leaving the industry,” said Pongthorn Chaiyawat, an adviser to the Fishery Association of Samut Songkhram.

He said 50% of fishing boats have been decommissioned over the past three years.

Of Mr Pongthorn’s fleet of boats, two were recently ordered out of the water due to strict licencing quotas imposed by the government.

He said he is currently waiting for the government to buy them back in accordance with its recently initiated compensation scheme.

“If we look at IUU as a game, the winner is the military-led government. It can claim credit for having the EU’s yellow card on Thai fisheries removed. But that victory has been achieved at the expense of the commercial trawler community in the country,” Mr Pongthorn says.

The local commercial fishery has been hit in the past three years after the country was yellowcarded by the European Union.

He warned that the government’s measures to appease the EU have not made business sense. Most of the seafood exported to the EU are tuna and shrimp products. Revenue from these exports amounts to about 30 billion baht per year, he said.

The main market for Thai fishery operators is Japan, which purchases fresh seafood totalling 100 billion baht annually.

However, Japanese traders have taken their business to other countries as the Thai industry has grappled with the toughened regulations.

It is not clear how much the move has cost the local industry economically.

“The capital cost of fishing in Thai waters has increased by 30%. Commercial fishery operators need to spend money on installing Vessel Monitoring Systems (VMS) and face extra costs associated with reporting their yields and activities,” he said.

The EU issued the yellow card on April 21, 2015. Since then, the military government had prescribed tough medicine that ultimately paid off when the EU finally lifted the order on Jan 8.

That came after government passed 138 new laws and also imposed catchment quotas which resulted in the delicensing of many boats to prevent overfishing.

The government capped the number of commercial fishing boats at 10,565, resulting in about 10,000 more boats being removed from the system.

Since 2015, the new laws have resulted in 4,448 legal cases involving fishery law violations. About half of them are over boats refusing to install VMS, one of the government’s headline measures.

So far, the government has collected over 458 million baht in fines resulting from those cases.

Phairit Cheeranai, deputy chairman of the Fishery Association of Samut Songkhram, said the government needs to help the sector.

“Commercial trawlers are suffering from the impractical regulations prescribed by the government. Now it is time for the government to provide remedies.

“Among the measures that the government needs to revise are the stiff penalties for violating fishery laws that are as high as one million baht even for a minor transgression,” he said.

He cited the case of a friend who was fined around 500,000 baht for not providing a Port-In-Port-Out (Pipo) arrival time to an official.

He claimed that his friend had neglected to do so as a member of his crew needed to be transported to hospital due to a medical emergency.

“Unrealistic and impractical regulations are not good for our fishery sector. Some regulations go beyond the EU requirement, such as having observers on board,” he said.

The government now requires overseas trawlers to hire an on-board observer to monitor fishing activities.

Operators must pay 100,000 baht per month for this “service”, said Mr Phairit.

Political parties have been quick to seize on an opportunity to gain support as a result of this upheaval.

Nipit Intharasombat, the deputy leader of the Democrat Party, said the party would change the fishery law to provide greater relief.

“Many regulations are too strict. Participation from fishermen is necessary for the sustainable development of the country’s fishery sector,” he said.

Source: Bangkok Post
Published on 22 January 2019
Link: https://www.bangkokpost.com/news/general/1614710/new-rules-stink-say-fishermen

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