Category Archives: Arrest, Detention and Deportation

Despite crackdown, people-smuggling across Thai-Myanmar border has risen

FILEPHOTO: lllegal migrants from Myanmar sit on a bus as they travel to a district court at Tha Sala police station, in Nakorn Si Thammarat province, Thailand, May 6, 2017. REUTERS/Surapan Boonthanom/File Photo


People smuggling across the border from Myanmar to Thailand is on the rise despite a crackdown by authorities in both countries that has made it more expensive and dangerous, Thai immigration police say.

Thailand said earlier this year that it hoped its efforts against smuggling would be recognized by the United States in its annual Trafficking in Persons report expected next month.

But while fewer migrants appear to be braving hazardous journeys by sea, figures from immigration police on the land border show an increase in people smuggled from Myanmar since 2014, when Thailand’s military government seized power and vowed to crack down on human smuggling and trafficking rings.

“We’ve applied a lot of pressure so they have to find a new way to come,” Sompong Saimonka, deputy superintendent of Border Immigration Police in Thailand’s western Tak province, the main land gateway from Myanmar, told Reuters. “We can’t keep tabs on it all.”

While Myanmar’s economy has been booming – the World Bank forecasts annual growth will average 7.1 percent over the next three years – wages remain among the lowest in the region.

Migrants from Myanmar often do work Thais shun in sectors such as construction, agriculture and fishing, forming the backbone of Southeast Asia’s second largest economy.

The two countries signed an agreement last year to allow migrants from Myanmar to legally work in Thailand. But many are unwilling to wait up to six months for identity documents and take their chance with the smugglers instead.


Thailand’s crackdown on human smuggling and trafficking syndicates reverberated around the region in 2015 and drew global attention to the abuses suffered by some of those seeking a better life.

Boatloads of migrants, many of them Rohingya Muslims escaping persecution in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, were turned away by regional governments from Bangladesh to Malaysia after being abandoned at sea by smugglers.

Dozens of bodies of suspected migrants were discovered in jungle camps along the Thai-Malaysian border.

Thai police say the focus on sea routes to Thailand and Malaysia has prompted smugglers to resume overland trails where it is easier to avoid checkpoints.

Data from immigration police at Mae Sot, the main entry point into western Thailand, shows the number of people smuggled from Myanmar rose from 20,323 in 2014 to 24,962 in 2016.

Those were just the recorded cases, so the increase could partly be due to greater enforcement efforts. Few of those recently smuggled were Rohingya, police in Mae Sot said.

“At present Thailand is very conscious about human rights when it comes to laborers and we have opened for laborers from Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar to come and work in Thailand,” government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd.

“Thailand needs overseas labor. We just ask that it is correct.”

Overall figures on illegal entry into Thailand were not available.


The 2015 crackdown led to the trial of some alleged human traffickers.

But police in Mae Sot say the network of people willing to act as brokers is wider than previously thought.

“Anyone can be a broker. The problem is more widespread than we think. A Burmese factor worker in Mae Sot with a mobile phone can be a broker,” said a former border police officer based in Mae Sot, who declined to be named because he said he feared for his safety.

Last year, in its closely watched report that ranks countries based on anti-trafficking efforts, the U.S. State Department upgraded Thailand’s status a notch to its Tier 2 “Watch List”. Thailand had been downgraded to Tier 3, the lowest level that could trigger sanctions, after the 2014 coup.

The report, which usually comes out in June, matters to Thailand’s junta as it tries to fully normalize relations with Washington and to show it is tackling tough issues better than previous civilian administrations.

The Thai-Myanmar border in Tak province is approximately 500 km (300 miles) long, and includes the 327 km Moie River. During the dry season, which typically begins in March and ends in May, parts of the river are low enough to cross by foot.

Since 2015, many brokers won’t risk transporting migrants in large groups, said the former border police officer. Checkpoints have become more stringent, prompting smugglers to charge more.

Migrants typically pay up to 15,000 Thai baht ($430) to be smuggled from the border area to Bangkok and other cities and towns in Thailand.

“Supply has gone down but demand for workers is still there so the fee for smugglers has gone up,” Yunus, a Myanmar Muslim broker in Thailand, told Reuters in a telephone interview.


Reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Alex Richardson, Reuters

Published on: 11 May 2017


Canny Cambodians get free rides home (Thailand)

Returnees include workers with and without legal documents. (Supplied photo via the Khmer Times)

PHNOM PENH – The number of “undocumented” Cambodian workers being deported from Thailand through border checkpoints has doubled due to the approaching Khmer New Year, an official said Tuesday.

But many were actually legal workers taking advantage of the free transport provided for deportees.

Sem Makara, the deputy chief of the border police station at Poipet, said there was no crackdown at the moment on undocumented Cambodian workers in Thailand, the Khmer Times reported.

“However, for a few days we have seen more than the normal number of migrant workers being deported back to Cambodia. It’s due to the coming Khmer New Year,” he said.

Between 500 and 600 Cambodian workers were reportedly sent back over the previous three days, Mr Makara said. On average, 100 to 200 were deported each day for not having the proper documents to work and stay, he said.

He said those being deported home were both illegal and legal workers.

“Legal workers sometimes hide their passports or travel documents from Thai authorities so they are sent back home immediately and get transport free of charge.”

Almost a half the deportees were actually legal workers. “They are straight away sent home without any further delay,” Mr Makara said.

Earlier this year, Cambodia set out ways that thousands of undocumented workers in Thailand can get legal status through the embassy there to find work or stay in a job.

For many Cambodians it ends a grey area in which they were issued with what are known as pink cards by the Thais. The cards give them migrant worker status, but do not allow them to get jobs legally.

Cambodian deportees at the border. (Supplied photo via the Khmer Times)


By: Khmer Times, Bangkok Post

Published on: 5 April 2017

Deportation, exploitation and death at the Thai border

Vendors block the Poipet International Border Checkpoint last month by dumping nearly 1,000 kilograms of fish in the street in protest against a Thai tariff increase. Photo supplied

It had only been a few days since the latest crackdown on Cambodian migrants working in Thailand – more than 1,000 illegal workers were sent back in only three days in early March before attention once again turned to this slow burning international conflict.

A few months before, thousands more suffered a similar fate. Moreover, these were the lucky ones. According to a Ministry of Interior report, in 2016 “Thai soldiers shot dead two and injured seven Cambodian citizens who illegally crossed the border, and arrested 293 people, including 45 females”, with a spate of violence in December of last year prompting emergency talks between top leaders to discuss a border that remains “a killing machine” according to human rights groups.

Nevertheless, the issue runs far deeper than the disproportionate responses of a handful of border police. The key dissonance is not between Thai and Cambodian authorities’ view of their mutual border, but between the official view of the Thai-Cambodian migration system and the perspective of those who use it.

Though they appear to debate and discuss their shared issues, both sides persist in a consensus that criminalises much of the everyday movement taking place between their two countries, rather than recognising it for the informal, but systematic and bilaterally cooperative institution that it is.

Indeed, the Thai-Cambodian cross-border economy is vital to both sides. Immigrant workers have been estimated to contribute about 1 percent of real GDP growth to the Thai economy and the figure is almost certainly growing as the volume of migration continues to expand. At the same time, the flows of money sent back by workers in Thailand have become intimately intertwined with the Cambodian rural economy.

The labour-sharing systems that sustained rural villages in more isolated times have increasingly given way, in this era of high and rising environmental risk, to faster, more capital intensive farming methods that require income from beyond the household.

The mutual reliance of these neighbouring economies reveals a fundamental disjuncture between the economics and politics of the Thai-Cambodian border. On the one hand, it is a deeply co-dependent and thriving cross-border economy; on the other, two separate sovereign states separated by an invisible but deadly border.

These realities one official, one actual are mutually exclusive, but those who pay the price for their discordance are not planners and logicians, but ordinary Cambodians, pressed by circumstances into joining an old and well-established system of international mobility.

Far from the clarity of the thick black lines that divides the two nations in theory, the border separating Cambodia and Thailand is a living entity, defined more by personal relationships, networks and tradition than legality. Indeed, legality is itself a relative concept here. Although vast numbers of Cambodians living on the east side of the border cross regularly to participate in agricultural, construction, or factory labour, a recent study – forthcoming in the Singapore Journal of Tropical Geography – has found that only 3.6 percent of current or former migrants possessed a full set of documentation for work abroad.

By the clearly defined letter of international law, then, more than 19 out of 20 migrants to Thailand from some areas of Cambodia are working as illegal immigrants. However, to view the situation thusly would be to grossly misrepresent the situation.

Whilst around half of the remainder possess no documentation, a further 40 percent possess a “bat”, a temporary work permit facilitating employment of foreign nationals subject to a stringent set of conditions including regular renewal, weekly reports to local police authorities and of course the ability to present a valid passport.

The long hours and limited freedoms characteristic of most forms of migrant labour makes fulfilling any let alone all of these conditions impossible. Very few possess both a visa and a work permit and even among those who do, even fewer renew it regularly or submit to the burdensome registration conditions of which many are unaware.

However, that so many Cambodians spend hundreds of dollars processing various combinations of documents either through official or, far more commonly, unofficial means should not be dismissed as ignorance. Along the Cambodian border, as in many parts of the world, borders simply look different to those who use them. Official channels are not only prohibitively expensive and often distrusted, but also physically and institutionally distant. Informal ones, by contrast, usually in the form of brokers and middlemen, are human, accessible and offer solutions in simple terms.

Rather than the scattered outposts of government administration in far western Cambodia, or its central base hundreds of kilometres away in Phnom Penh, it is these people a vast network of drivers, salesmen, managers and employers of both Thai and Cambodian origin that are the face of authority for most of those who use the border.

Consequently, for those who participate in the informal economy of cross-border migration, it is not the government that sets the rules of documentation, but the known, trusted and – crucially – physically present broker who stands in front of them. If he or she says, as brokers are wont to do, that “with documents you can go everywhere freely, but without them you will be always looking around, always fearful”, then a migrant has little choice but to believe them.

Furthermore, while the narratives of documentation offered by brokers may not tally with the legal reality, this does not make them untrue. In the Thai-Cambodian migration system, as in many others, the people who use brokers to cross a border remain within their influence on either side.

Repayment plans for documents are arranged and employers are selected even before leaving the village in most cases. Similarly, brokers offer protection from authorities on both sides, although the extent depends on the cost of the service provided: the more you pay, the safer you are.

Those who choose the basic package of brokerage run the greatest level of risk – “running all night through the forest” or “hiding in the back of a truck” to escape the authorities. And it is this group the poorest farmers, the deepest in debt –whose wages will be both lower and docked more punitively to pay for the cost of their trip. Indeed, there is a hierarchy of prices for work in different industries. As migrants themselves explained:

‘[I]f you want work in construction it will cost you 3,000 baht [$92], but if you want to work in a garment factory, it may be 4,000 baht [$123]’ (Returned Migrant 13, Svay, 14/08/2014).

In this way, both the migration process itself and employment on the Thai side reflect the entrenched financial inequalities of life in Western Cambodia. Subtle variations in rural livelihoods create uneven opportunities across the border and these differences in working conditions in turn reinforce inequalities at home. Poverty on one side of the border means poverty on the other as the ever present flows of people linking the two countries keep migrants and their households constantly and dynamically linked together – but for both sides migration means life.

For those who use it, then, this vast migration system is a cohesive, living organism; it is the border – impotent and dead atop a thriving economic entity that is the unnatural element. Cambodians do not migrate illegally because they wish to, but because illegal migration is practically the only course of action on offer. The much vaunted One Stop Service Centres set up in the wake of the 2014 exodus are only a small part of the solution. While they help to streamline the complex process of obtaining documentation, it is only documentation that they offer, without the linkages to employers, transportation, or guidance that are vital to a successful migration.

For the poorest households that are the primary source of undocumented migration from Cambodia, it is these services that matter more than any other. Even if they can obtain documents, most potential migrants cannot cross a border speculatively looking for work, nor can they afford the chance of failure given the investment of time and resources that any migration requires. Consequently, “guarantees” of work however dubious are invariably preferable to the uncertainties of legality. Nevertheless, the tradeoff for choosing the only economic pathway available to many worse-off Cambodians is the risk of exploitation, deportation and death.

This everyday injustice emerges not from the brutality of police patrols but from the highest levels of international policy: where legal frameworks reflect the two countries’ economic inter-linkages so poorly, conflict is inevitable. As long as both sides fail to acknowledge the reality that they are vital to each other’s ongoing economic health, the convenient political myth of mutual isolation will continue to see Cambodians disadvantaged, exploited and killed.

Rectifying this means first recognising that the Thai-Cambodian border is not a natural national edifice punctured by opportunistic criminals, but a largely arbitrary division of a longstanding system of mobility sustained by a shared history and culture of mobile livelihoods.

As long as accessible migration services – in the form of documents, but also linkages to employers, and affordable and practical transportation – continue to be the sole preserve of “criminal” agents, then it will continue to be the poorest Cambodians who are criminalised and made to run the starkest risk to their lives and livelihoods. It is time for these two states to give back something to the embattled migrants that link and enrich them.

Dr Laurie Parsons has been an academic researcher of Cambodian mobile livelihoods since 2008, conducting large-scale projects for Transparency International, Plan International, Save the Children, CARE International, ActionAid, the IDRC and the Royal University of Phnom Penh among others.


By: Dr Laurie Parsons, The Phnom Penh Post

Published On: 29 March 2017

Migrant workers told to register or face deportation

File photo: Police check migrant workers at the Tawanna market on March 10 following complaints that there are illegal migrants working there.

All migrant workers in the fishing industry are required to register by the end of this month, the Ministry of Labour has announced.

The ministry said all migrant workers in the fishing industry have to register themselves to receive a proper work permit before March 31, as presently there are only 47,000 registered migrant workers in the fisheries sector, Thai National News Bureau reported.

Labour Ministry Inspector-General Ananchai Uthaipathaanacheep said the fisheries sector employed 146,000 migrant workers in 2016 and their work permits will expire soon.

So far only 47,000 migrant workers have renewed their work permits, leaving 99,000 at risk of being classified as illegal workers, he said.

He urged employers to help their migrant workers renew their permits before the deadline or face their employees being deported.

He said the employers must first submit work applications for their migrant workers to a local employment office. The workers will then be required to undertake a physical examination, before reporting to the office to receive their identification card and work permit.

Once these procedures are complete, officials will register their nationality before issuing a passport and a work visa.

The work permits this year will allow migrant labourers to work in Thailand until November 1.

A foreign worker is allowed to request a visa extension for a maximum of two years.


By: The Nation

Published on: 22 March 2017

Government pushes to document all migrants

The government has vowed to continue its push for the remaining 1.34 million undocumented migrant workers to have their nationalities verified by 2022, Defence Ministry spokesman Kongcheep Tantrawanit says.

Maj Gen Kongcheep said that legalisation of migrant workers is still under way to achieve the government’s goal of reducing the number of illegal migrants from a million to zero by 2022.

“We need to deal with the migrant worker problems and reform the whole system relating to migrant workers’ livelihoods because this is a security burden on our country,” Maj Gen Kongcheep told the media Wednesday at Government House.

At present, there are an estimated 2.63 million migrant workers residing nationwide.

Of the 2.63 million migrant workers, only 1.29 million of them are already legal and are successfully continuing their work in Thailand.

Of the remaining 1.34 million illegal migrant workers, 146,000 have worked in the fish processing and marine fisheries industries, while the rest work in other sectors. Most of them are working under the government’s relief measure with temporary work permits.

Regarding the zoning of migrant workers’ residences, Maj Gen Kongcheep said he expected the zoning in 13 provinces to be completed only by this year.

Under the Labour Ministry’s draft executive decree on the management of migrant workers, employees are required to provide accommodation for migrant workers in their areas or in areas designated by provincial officials. Employers will also be required to pay levies which will be used to pay for other costs such as utilities, and medical payments for migrant workers who are not covered by health insurance or social security.

Maj Gen Kongcheep said the zoning will ensure better health conditions, support crackdowns on criminal activities, and it is also hoped that this will help lift a ban on imported products from Thailand which is believed to be involved in labour abuse and human trafficking.

The residential zoning will be carried out initially in Samut Sakhon and Rayong provinces where about 300,000 and 60,000 migrant workers live and work respectively.

In addition to residential control, the zoning plan will expand to 11 more provinces where huge numbers of more than 50,000 migrant workers are staying.

They are Pathum Thani, Chon Buri, Samut Prakan, Tak, Chiang Mai, Nakhon Pathom, Nonthaburi, Phuket, Songkhla, Rayong and Surat Thani.

Employers would be required to arrange accommodation for their migrant employees within the state-specified zones, he said.

Maj Gen Kongcheep also said that the government has issued measures for two types of illegal workers.

Fishery workers whose deportation reprieves expire on Nov 1 will need to leave the country within 15 days.

Workers in other job types who have won deportation reprieves lasting eight years will be issued smart cards at the post-arrival and reintegration centres for migrant workers in each province in March. A computer application will also be made to check information on migrant workers, Maj Gen Kongcheep said.

On Feb 23 last year, the cabinet approved measures proposed by the Labour Ministry to relax regulations on migrant workers holding a temporary work permit.

Under the cabinet resolution, migrant workers who have yet to pass the nationality verification process and hold temporary work permits, known as pink cards, would be allowed to live and work in Thailand for a maximum of two years, or no later than March 31, 2018, after their work permits expired on March 31 last year.


By: Prangthong Jitharoenkul, Bangkok Post

Published on: 9 February 2017

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