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Press Release: Launch of THE PRECARIOUS STATUS OF MIGRANTS IN THAILAND: Reflections on the Exodus of Cambodian Migrants and Lessons Learnt
10 December 2014
THE PRECARIOUS STATUS OF MIGRANTS IN THAILAND:
Reflections on the Exodus of Cambodian Migrants and Lessons Learnt
On 9 December 2014, the Mekong Migration Network (MMN) launched the report “The Precarious Status of Migrants in Thailand: Reflections on the Exodus of Cambodian Migrants and Lessons Learnt.” The launch was attended by 45 people, including the representatives of the Cambodian government, Civil Society Organisations, International NGOs and members of the media.
The launch was started with welcome remarks made by Ms Pok Panhavichetre, Executive Director of the Cambodian Women Crisis Centre (CWCC). Ms Pok as well as the Master of Ceremony, Mr Sokchar Mom of the Legal Support for Children and Women (LSCW), and Ms Reiko Harima, the Regional Coordinator of the Mekong Migration Network, first introduced the background of the research. They explained that beginning in June 2014, Thailand witnessed the departure of huge numbers of Cambodian migrant workers who were deported or left voluntarily in fear of government crackdowns. In anticipation of an eventual return of these migrants back to Thailand, and hoping that they would do so through a formal channel, both Thailand and Cambodia swiftly introduced a number of policy reforms to make legal migration channels more accessible. MMN and its partner organisations believed it was critical to ensure that these rapidly developing responses reflected the voices of migrants and their families, and decided to conduct a series of interviews for this purpose. Interviews were carried out by the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center (CWCC), Legal Support for Children and Women (LSCW), Cambodian Women for Peace and Development (CWPD), and Cambodia Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC), in Banteay Meachey, Prey Veng, Kampong Cham, and Kandal provinces.
While the study was being carried out in these areas, large numbers of migrant returnees started going back to Thailand. Therefore MMN extended the scope of its work and carried out interviews with those who had returned to Thailand, their employers and local government officials in Thailand. The interviews on the Thai side were carried out in Trat, Rayong and Sa Kaeo.
Ms Omsin Boonlert, Research and Advocacy Officer of the MMN, and Mr Sopheap Suong, Poi Pet Program Manager of the CWCC, presented the highlights of the research findings. They noted that Cambodian migrants’ top two concerns while migrating are the cost and the legality or otherwise of their actions.
“Previously, I could not afford to pay the registration fees, but I thought being undocumented would not really affect my life in Thailand. However, I just realized that if I am not registered, the army will arrest us.” (Cambodian migrant man in his 20s, who used to be employed in construction work in Sa Kaeo Province. Interviewed in Cha Cheng Sao Province on 18 August 2014)
Migrants’ willingness to migrate through legal channels in fact appears to have grown stronger since the exodus. However, many face significant financial obstacles in doing so, and the issue is exacerbated by the fact that many migrants are receiving below the minimum wage.
At the launch, the guest speaker, her Honourable Excellency Ms Chou Bun Eng, Secretary of State, Ministry of Interior, Royal Government of Cambodia, stated that migration governance needs to be framed in a broader development context, including human resource development. For example, there may be employment opportunities within the country, but people cannot benefit from them without the education and skills required to do these jobs. She expressed her wish that this gap be reduced so that people have the option of either working in Cambodia or migrating abroad. She also expressed her appreciation for the MMN report, mentioning that the MMN report is unique in comparison to other studies on the issue, particularly in regards to its focus on policy updates and migrants’ perspectives on migration mechanisms. As such, it is a useful reference for policy makers.
Mr. Choub Narath, Deputy Director General, Department of Employment and Manpower, Ministry of Labour, Royal Government of Cambodia also provided updates on the Cambodian government policies on labour migration and its efforts in registering its nationals working in Thailand. Mr Choub Narath commented on the difficulty of anticipating the migration policies of Thailand in the longer term, which in turn makes it challenging for the Cambodian government to plan for outgoing migration on a long term basis.
Finally, Ms. Reiko Harima shared MMN’s reflections on the situation. She said that the incident was a stark reminder that migrant workers are the backbone of Thailand’s economy. However, despite longstanding dependence on migrant labour in many industries, migration policies in Thailand continue to fail to provide a long term and sustainable response to the millions of migrant workers in the country. She also noted the lack of confidence among migrants in law enforcement institutions as a result of the authorities’ emphasis on controlling the migration population while doing little to protect them. She said that if efforts to promote legal migration channels are to be successful, it is important that all stakeholders work towards restoring migrants’ trust in the authorities, as only then will government efforts be supported by the migrant workers themselves.
The full report is available on the MMN Webpage at:
English version [5.5 MB]
Khmer version [1.8 MB]
For further information, please contact: *Reiko Harima, MMN and Asian Migrant Centre (AMC) (English and Japanese), Hong Kong: firstname.lastname@example.org / +852 23120031; *Omsin (Plaii) Boonlert (English and Thai), MMN, Thailand: email@example.com / +66-53-283259; or *Sopheap Suong (English and Khmer), Cambodian Women Crisis Centre (CWCC), Cambodia: BMCmanager@cwcc.org.kh / +85512969538
But a labor alliance, the Myanmar Trade Union Federation (MTUF), said the law and related bylaws have not been implemented because the workers’ survey is not yet completed.
Aung Lin, the MTUF chairperson and member of a national committee tasked with determining the minimum wage, told The Irrawaddy that “it is because of delays by the [Labor] Ministry.”
The MTUF conducted its own survey in pilot areas in July 2013, the results of which were shared with the national minimum wage committee. It suggested the daily minimum wage be set at 7,000 kyats (US$7) for a household of three people, according to Aung Lin, who added that the Labor Ministry disregarded the findings.
The majority of Burma’s 51 million people are either wage laborers or farmers who reside in rural areas.
Workers at several factories in industrial zones have held wage-related strikes in recent years, facing a job market where a general laborer earns about 60,000 kyats per month while a skilled laborer earns about 150,000 kyats per month.
“The standard minimum wage should be implemented as soon as possible to reduce the workers’ survival problems,” said Mar Mar Oo, the deputy team leader of the 88 Generation Peace and Open Society, who added that an additional impending burden on workers would be rising commodity prices expected as a result of a hike of civil servants’ salaries.
Amid the delay in setting a minimum wage, lawmakers last week authorized a salary raise for themselves, as well as for civil servants and soldiers.
Parliament on Nov. 12 approved a motion to implement salary increases for civil servants, soldiers and lawmakers in the next fiscal year, which begins in April 2015. According to the Ministry of National Planning & Economic Development, more than one million people in Burma work as civil servants. The motion included provisions on setting minimum wage bylaws and the implementation of protections for the country’s farmers, but there have been no new developments on these labor issues since then.
A Union-level lawmaker receives a salary of 300,000 kyats per month, and a per diem of 10,000 kyats while they are attending sessions of Parliament. Divisional and state-level parliamentarians earn less, at 200,000 kyats per month.
On Tuesday, the Lower House agreed to a range of salary increases, stipulating that the 2015-16 pay rise would put salaries at 1 million to 1.6 million kyats for each Union-level lawmaker and 500,000 to 1 million kyats for each state and divisional lawmaker.
Parliamentarians this week defended the proposed pay rise.
“Our effort for the salary increases is not solely for us—our successors would have much benefit from that,” said Ye Htun, an ethnic Shan lawmaker who passed blame on the delay to the minimum wage’s implementation.
“We can only make laws, and the respective ministries then implement it. Now the salary issues have been agreed to, but the exact amount on the raise is the executive’s decision.”
The current Parliament’s term expires in March 2016, following national elections slated for late 2015.
Ba Shein, an Arakanese lawmaker, said the agreed salary boost would help parliamentarians to focus on their work. While some sitting members of Parliament are wealthy, others struggle to afford even basic things like their children’s school fees, he said.
“How can we work if we cannot support our families?” Ba Shein said.
The amount of each salary increase is yet to be determined by relevant ministries of President Thein Sein’s administration. The president has two weeks to review and sign into law any proposal passed by Parliament, and can also send it back to the legislature with suggested changes.
By Nyein Nyein, The Irrawaddy
The Department of Employment (DOE) says it will need two weeks to complete
the registration of 22,000 more migrant workers who could not be registered
in time for the October 31 deadline.
According to Mr Pichit Nilthongkham, Director of the Office of Foreign
Workers Administration of the DOE, a total of 1.56 million immigrants from
Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia applied for work permits during the registration
period between June 26 and October 31. However, on the final day, employers
reportedly brought in an unusually large number of workers for
registration, causing a backlog of applications.
As a consequence, the officials were unable to serve over 22,000 applicants
and had to arrange appointments with them for later dates. Most of these
applicants are residing within Bangkok. Mr Pichit expects that they will be
gradually called in to initiate the procedure within two weeks’ time.
Following the registration, the Director said the DOE will coordinate with
the neighboring countries in the nationality verification process until
March 31 next year, after which the one-year work permits will be issued
for qualified registrants.
From now on, any employers found to be hiring illegal migrant workers will
be subject to a fine of 10,000-100,000 baht per head while each worker will
face a fine of 2,000-100,000 baht or a jail term of up to five years or
By: National News Bureau of Thailand
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.