Category Archives: Migration Policy in Thailand

TIP report harms, not helps, sex workers

The American government seems to enjoy the role of headmaster giving out grades to students.

The American headmaster has had 13 years to help Thai students improve its anti-human trafficking performance through the Trafficking in Persons (TIP) report, which ranks countries according to their efforts to end trafficking. The latest report card for Thailand, however, shows the problem is not getting any better. Worse, we are now ranked among the world’s worst performers.

The self-appointed American headmaster may blame his students, but wiser teachers would realise the TIP system simply does not work and has failed migrant workers in Thailand.

In its first TIP report card back in 2001, Thailand received a Grade 2, meaning “could do better”. Then in 2010, after eight years of cooperation with the USA anti-trafficking agenda and lots of money spent on anti-trafficking projects, Thailand was dropped to Grade 2.5.

Now in 2014, after millions of dollars and another four years of USA policy, human trafficking problems remain unchanged and Thailand has been dumped to Grade 3 by its headmaster.

America may need to ask this question: If you do something the exact same way every year for 13 years and things stay the same, or get worse, isn’t it time to change the school of thought?

The International Labour Organisation (ILO) has a new strategic plan (2015-2020) with a focus on promoting decent work for all, especially ending forced labour and unacceptable working conditions for everyone. In short, it is going beyond an emphasis on trafficking victims.

The ILO, which has no particular country bias, is much better placed to monitor and guide international labour standards than a single country like America.

Despite good intentions, the TIP process and anti-trafficking law end up harming poor people who need work.

A Grade 3 means the US can stop or reduce aid to and trade with Thailand. We have not heard of any strategy or plan to assist workers who have lost their livelihoods from anti-trafficking crackdowns.

Trafficking is loosely defined as playing a role in the movement of people to benefit from the exploitation of their labour. In practice for the past 13 years, the enforcement of anti-trafficking laws has been limited to conducting raids and apprehending migrant workers in seafood factories and entertainment venues.

Migrant workers need to work to support themselves and their families. The implementation of anti-trafficking laws through crackdowns has, in effect, made providing for their family a criminal activity under the law and bilateral agreements with the USA.

It must be pointed out that labour standards and quality of life for migrant workers have not been improved by the American anti-trafficking policy; instead, it is an obstacle.

Workers should be able to address issues of unfair wages, dangerous work practices and working conditions. The anti–trafficking law hinders this process. Many migrant workers refuse to demand their rights due to the threat of “rescue and deportation” as trafficking victims.

The budget spent on anti-trafficking is substantial. In 2005, the American government awarded $95 million (3 billion baht) to 266 anti-trafficking projects, including seven in Thailand. Spending has increased since then.

Yet all this money has not resulted in better human rights or labour conditions for workers. In fact, we can argue that life has become harder, more dangerous and more expensive.

For example, Thai workers who want to work overseas have to pay much higher fees. Many are forced to borrow from loan sharks to meet the higher costs.

Migrant workers found they need to be assisted by someone in authority, or with influence, to move and find work. This need is often exploited, feeding the culture of corruption and exploitation.

In April 2008, 54 migrant workers from Myanmar suffocated and died while attempting to travel undetected in an unventilated container truck in Ranong.

In 2012, Empower released a report outlining the negative impacts of the anti-trafficking law on the lives of migrant sex workers and their families. Based on real-life experiences, it is an in-depth community research study that provides details and examples of widespread abuses.

For starters, American anti-trafficking money is attractive. Since the police already know the entertainment industry, they use entrapment to arrest sex workers. This is abuse in itself, according to the National Human Rights Commission.

To fulfill their crackdown homework under American anti-trafficking policy, police pretend to be customers, even using sex workers’ service first, before making arrests. It is accurate to say that rape is part of police work under this anti-trafficking policy.

Initially, the American anti-trafficking agenda focused on migrant sex workers who were labelled as victims but treated as criminals. Photos of raids — men in uniforms standing over women who are crouching, covering their faces, or with their eyes blacked out — are common in the media. These iconic images accompany almost every story on the crime of prostitution.

Over the past decade, the headlines might have changed but the image used is still the same. So is the situation of human and labour rights in the entertainment industry.

Now that the focus has shifted to workers in the seafood industry, another typical image that has emerged is that of migrant workers on fishing boats or women and children peeling shrimps. Will this image stay for another decade along with a similar lack of improvement in their work conditions?

Last year, Empower ran a project supported by the US embassy in Thailand to train sex workers in human rights and paralegal skills.

This project informed sex workers that even if they are suspected of breaking the law or are witnesses to the crime of human trafficking, they still have many rights. For example, they are entitled to have a translator, to contact their families or a trusted person. They also must be provided with a lawyer and other basic requirements, such as food, clothing and health care while in custody.

There are protections and punishments under each law and the overall principle is that if someone is not guilty, they must be released. However, the experience of migrants under current anti-trafficking practices is not one of protection and assistance according to the law. Under the anti-trafficking framework, migrants have been frequently kept in custody longer than any law prescribes.

Frequently there is help with translation. It is also common to establish migrant sex workers’ ages as minors by examining their teeth and/or by X-ray. These methods are often inaccurate, leading to further violations of human rights and prolonged custody. As witnesses, they are kept in custody and not cared for or compensated as they should be under the Witness Protection Act.

The Suppression of Human Trafficking Act 2008 actually offers much protection and assistance. However, there has been no full report on how these obligations are met, or full disclosure of budget and spending by the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security.

By overlooking the situation migrant sex workers face after police crackdowns, the American government comes across as indifferent to their rights. Maybe they just don’t care, and the number of “victims” arrested are merely used to show that someone is doing something to stop the criminals.

The US likes to be seen as a champion of human rights, equality and justice. But their TIP process and anti-trafficking agenda undermines these noble ideals.

All people need is to be able to work in safe and fair conditions. What we should aim for is the improvement of workplaces and labour rights for all workers, including sex workers, rather than following the American anti-trafficking agenda, which has failed the very people it sets out to help.
By: Chantawipa Apisuk, Bangkok Post

Burmese in Chiang Mai Fear Uncertain Future Under Junta Rule

CHIANG MAI — Burmese migrants in Chiang Mai are bracing for an uncertain future as Thailand’s military junta pushes forward with new policies aimed at revamping the country’s migrant worker system.

“Sometimes I worry, even though I have documents” a 22-year-old restaurant worker from Burma’s Shan State told Khaosod English. “The police would like to make money, they find fault every time.”

While the mass exodus of more than 225,000 Cambodian migrants from Thailand attracted headlines last month, the similar plight of Burmese migrant workers has received less attention.

Since early June, police in Chiang Mai have raided a number of Burmese neighborhoods, as well as markets, construction sites and other workplaces suspected of utilizing migrant labor.

Many migrants, including registered workers, returned to Burma in fear of a crackdown by Thailand’s new military regime, said Sai Hseng Ya, chair of the Shan Literature and Culture Society in Chiang Mai.

Rumors continue to circulate of more arrests in and around Chiang Mai, further fuelling anxiety among the migrant community.

“There is still a crackdown in some areas,” said a Shan teacher, who preferred to remain anonymous, as did the majority of migrants interviewed for this article. “Many migrant workers are still worried.”

New policies bring hope and fear 

While the military junta’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) has recently opened several “One Stop Service” Centres around Thailand to help migrant workers obtain temporary work permits, no such centres have been opened in Chiang Mai.

As a result, a window for brokers in the north to take advantage of migrant workers remains open.

One Shan student in Chiang Mai found this out the hard way.

“This morning one of the young students told me she’d lost some money,” a Shan teacher told Khaosod English. “She went to a company and paid 3,000 baht [for identification documents], but after that, when she tried to contact them, this person [at the company] had disappeared. The police don’t take action for this kind of thing.”

According to Brahm Press, the director of the MAP Foundation, the NCPO’s move to register migrants is a positive development, but only a short term fix. The permits acquired at the One Stop Centres only give migrants two months before they must apply for more permanent documents.

“Migrants need stability, and this does not provide it,” Mr. Press said.

The NCPO has also established Special Economic Zones (SEZs) along Thailand’s borders, ostensibly to promote trade and investment. However, some fear that the boons to Thai businesses will come at the expense of migrant workers.

Mr. Press believes the zones will enable employers to “evade standard labor laws, notably by paying lower wages and keeping migrants in insecure and uncertain situations.”

The chairman of the NCPO, Gen Prayuth Chan-ocha, said himself on 30 May that “[the SEZs] could help prevent illegal migrants from crossing into inner provinces of Thailand, thereby giving more work opportunities to Thai nationals.”

Nowhere to turn 

Thailand’s foreign labor policies have been dogged by corruption for years, forcing migrant workers to adapt to a broken system in which they must pay officials, employers, or unscrupulous brokers offering shady promises to avoid arrest.

Kanchana Di-ut of the MAP Foundation says that Thai officials often maintain cosy relationships with brokers, blurring the distinction between official and unofficial processes.

Reports of detained migrant workers in Chiang Mai who were forced to pay a fee for their release has also led to speculation that police officers are using the recent raids as an opportunity for quick cash.

According to migrant rights activist Andy Hall, police have “arrested people that were irregular but as usual they didn’t deport the workers. In general, they just extorted money from them and then let them go.”

The climate of fear among migrant workers in Chiang Mai is fueled in part by a lack of accurate and timely information on migrant policy available in Shan or Burmese languages. They are forced to rely on Thai language TV news, which they may not understand, unofficial sources on the internet, or simply hearsay to learn about the policy developments that affect their status.

After the military coup, the MAP Foundation’s Shan-language radio station Seang Htem Heng Mai, which broadcasts information on migrant policy, was forced off the air like scores of other community radio stations across the country.

The vulnerability of Burmese migrant workers in Thailand is further compounded by the inaction and inattentiveness of the Burmese government.

The Burmese Ambassador to Thailand Win Maung told The Irrawaddy last month that he hadn’t heard of “any mass arrests of Burmese migrant workers.” His declaration came despite numerous media reports detailing the arrest of Burmese migrant workers during raids in Chiang Mai, Bangkok, Mahachai, and Mae Sot.

“We cannot rely on them,” said Nang Hseng Moon of the Shan Literature and Culture Society. “Other countries are very active, countries like the Philippines or Indonesia, but Burma is not. There is no support from the [Burmese] government.”

For many Burmese migrant workers, their desire to live and work in Thailand is not based on purely economic considerations, but also on concerns for their safety and security back in Burma. The recent crackdowns on migrant workers in Thailand have caused many to grapple with a familiar sense of unease.

“When they were in Burma, they were afraid all the time” said Nang Hseng Moon. “When they arrive here, they see the [military] uniform and they are afraid again.”

With armed conflict ongoing in parts of Shan State, the prospect of returning home is not an appealing option either. However, the overwhelming majority of migrant workers interviewed by Khaosod English aspired to return to Burma in the near future.

For a young Burmese restaurant worker, his desire to eventually return home was clear, but only on one condition: “when we have democracy.”

By: David Hopkins, Khaosod

17,000 migrant workers registered for work permits in Samut Prakarn

SAMUTPRAKARN – A total of 17,000 migrants workers from 3 neighboring countries have submitted their work permit applications at the one-stop service center in Samut Prakarn.

After the center for the registration of foreign workers opened on July 7th, 2014, a large number of illegal migrant workers from Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos, registered at the center. The central province of Samut Prakan, is well known for its large migrant worker population as it is an important location of fishing and other industries.

Cambodian workers rank in first place in registering for work permits in Thailand followed by Burmese and those from Laos respectively. Most workers seek registration to be able to earn a living in construction, in a factory or on a fishing boat.

The registration will continue until August 5th and the provincial facility is able to register 1,200 workers daily. Further information can be obtained at Samut Prakarn Employment Office, on 0 2383 7471-3.

By: National News Bureau of Thailand

Over 110,000 migrant workers purchase health insurance cards at One Stop Service Centers

The Ministry of Public Health notifies the community that after the opening of 34 One Stop Service Centers nationwide, more than 110,000 migrant workers have been for health checks and purchased health insurance packages.
The Permanent Secretary for Public Health Narong Sahamethapat noted that after the ministry had established 34 One Stop Service Centers, 28 in upcountry and another 6 in Bangkok, for migrant workers to receive proper health check and purchase health insurance cards across the country, more than 100,000 workers received the service and bought insurance cards from June 30th to July 15th. Employers are encouraged to bring their migrant workers in to register. The process is very useful in terms of the migrant worker profile records, and migrant disease control. Any workers with any of seven restricted diseases including latent tuberculosis infection (LTBI), leprosy, elephantiasis, syphilis, narcotic addiction, alcoholism and psychosis are not allowed to work in the country.
Those who purchase the health insurance are available to receive services at the hospital designated on the insurance card immediately after the purchase.
By: National News Bureau of Thailand

Landlords told to report all migrants; Province sets 24 hour deadline to list tenants

Landlords of migrant workers in Samut Sakhon province have been asked to report to authorities within 24 hours or face legal action as part of efforts to regulate rental properties.

Migrant workers on June 30, 2014show so-called non-Thai identification cards issued by the one-stop service centre opened at the Social Security Office branch in Samut Sakhon’s Muang district. (Photo by Pattanapong Hirunard)

Samut Sakhon governor Arthit Boonyasopat on Sunday called a meeting with owners of houses and apartment rooms rented by migrant workers in Muang, Krathum Baen and Ban Phaeo district, to explain new requirements to register with officials. The districts are home to many migrant workers in the fisheries, agricultural and industrial sectors.

The move follows the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)’s demand that all foreign workers register with the authorities. The governor said there are 390,000 legal migrant workers working in the province, while the number of unregistered workers is estimated to be around 100,000.

Officials are regulating housing for migrant workers in response to the high number living in the province, Pol Lt Arthit said. The provincial Internal Security Operations Command (Isoc) and defence office have been assigned to inspect the living quarters of migrants alongside local administrative bodies.

Owners of rental houses leased by foreign workers are required to notify officials about their tenants within 24 hours. Those who fail to so will face legal action, the governor said.

Col Jakkrawut Sinpoonphol, deputy chief of Samut Sakhon’s Isoc office and head of a migrant housing inspection team, said landlords must produce rental contracts for the check.

Home owners may become second defendants in legal cases if officials arrest their tenants for violating the law, Col Jakkrawut told landlords attending the meeting yesterday.

Kraipot Pookkanawanit, who rents out rooms in the area, said he would call a meeting with his tenants, both Thais and migrants, to tell them about the new requirements.

The landlord said he had never sought any documentation from his tenants, adding that he agreed to rent properties to people who did not look dangerous. He said he will cooperate with authorities by asking tenants for necessary documents.

A source said landlords who fail to report to authorities within 24 hours will face a fine of up to 800 baht per rented room. The fine will double if officials search rooms and find unregistered tenants. Those who rent to illegal migrant workers will face jail terms of up to five years and fines of up to 50,000 baht.

Factories with living quarters for migrant workers are also required to report to authorities, the source said.

Narong Maikhiew, head of Village Group 5 in tambon Suan Luang of Krathum Baen district, said migrant workers renting in his community were mostly registered, so would face no problems.

By: Penchan Charoensuthipan, Bangkok Post

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