Category Archives: Arrest, Detention and Deportation
The raid carried out by the Department of Special Investigation and the Labour Ministry on Friday that detained around 2,000 migrant workers in a housing complex in Chon Buri requires an explanation from the government. If it was a one-off operation, it will have accomplished little other than cause hardships for the workers involved. If it is part of a larger crackdown on illegal migrants, as suggested by the involvement of both the DSI and the Labour Ministry, the raid has major implications for the workers but also several important economic sectors that rely heavily on migrant labour, both documented and undocumented.
There are, of course, a great many similar migrant workers’ communities scattered around the country that provide a steady source of manpower for certain sectors, the garment and fisheries industries in particular.
Although the government has warned for some time that a crackdown on illegal immigrants was coming, this raid seemed to come from out of the blue and the timing is odd.
An April 13 deadline had been set for the employer-aided registration of undocumented workers. Employment Department statistics indicate that as of early this month a total of 54,702 employers had submitted quotas to hire 414,820 migrant workers from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos under the memorandum of understanding Thailand had signed with these countries. But on April 5 the Labour Ministry announced that it would seek cabinet approval to extend the verification period for an estimated 400,000 remaining unregistered alien workers by another 120 days to give the one-stop centres set up to process the applications time to do their work.
It is strange therefore that this raid was carried out when so many unregistered workers are in limbo due to factors out of their control, especially as Employment Department chief Prawit Khiangpol said that during the 120-day extension period unregistered migrant workers applying for the verification process would not be arrested. While it isn’t clear if any workers were formally arrested in Chon Buri, many are almost certainly being detained for an unspecified period, and some of them are probably fully documented workers.
The authorities involved in the raid said they were detaining workers who had failed to present work permits or official employment documents, pending proof from their employers that they were legally employed. This strongly implies that in some cases at least these documents are being kept by their employers and not with the workers or at their place of residence. The workers should be allowed to keep official copies of their own documents to give them some protection during such clandestine raids and in dealing with the authorities in their daily lives.
The raid in Chon Buri starkly demonstrates the powerlessness of most migrant workers live in this country. In many cases they are basically indentured servants, and we have all seen reports from human rights groups describing conditions of actual slavery for some migrant workers, particularly in the fisheries industry. It is common knowledge that some migrant workers are essentially held hostage by the trafficking gangs that bring them here.
When fully online the government’s migrant worker documentation programme should go a long way toward ending such abuses, but the process needs to be streamlined and protective measures need to be implemented.
The fact is that Thailand needs these workers and they should be allowed to stay here with dignity. But looking at the picture at the top of page two of yesterday’s Bangkok Post, it is clear that wasn’t happening on Friday in Chon Buri. The picture shows a group of mostly young, nervous looking workers sitting in front of their primitive housing complex where they sleep on average more than three to a small room, waiting patiently on the whims of the authorities.
Whether Friday’s raid was the first wave of a new get-tough government policy on illegal migrant workers or just an isolated operation, those responsible should be asked what they hoped to accomplish. According to the Employment Department the verification process is swamped and needs several more months to be completed. At the least all such raids should be put off until then.
In the meantime, watchdog government agencies should be set up or strengthened to look after the rights of migrant workers, and the justice system should be geared toward swiftly prosecuting those who take unfair advantage of them.
By Bangkok Post
Published on 28 April 2013
Almost 2,000 migrant workers, both legal and illegal, have been detained for questioning following a raid on 12 buildings in Chon Buri’s Si Racha district.
A combined team of officials from the Labour Ministry and the Department of Special Investigation’s eastern branch and local police on Friday raided a Si Racha housing complex in tambon Nong Khamand found almost 2,000 migrant workers from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar staying there.
The raid followed complaints that a large number of migrants working at factories in Chon Buri and neighbouring areas whose legal status was not known gathered in this area.
The complex is made up of a dozen five-storey buildings with more than 700 rooms, said Cherdsak Wisutthikul, head of the ministry’s labour protection section.
After the raid, authorities found many migrant workers failed to present work permits or official employment documents. They were being detained pending proof from their employers that they were legally employed.
By Bangkok Post
Published on 27 April 2013
BANGKOK, March 22 – Thailand’s private sector has called on the police to refrain from arresting migrant workers who are in the process of applying for employment licences before next month’s deadline.
Angsuras Areekul, chairman of the Thai Contractors Association, met with Labour Minister Phadermchai Sasomsub on Thursday to complain about harsh action by Thai police against migrant workers from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia despite a Cabinet resolution that leniency be applied in dealing with them as the workers are required to apply for employment registration within 120 days, or by the April 13 deadline.
He said officers from various police units including tourism, highway, immigration, provincial commands and Bangkok Metropolitan Administration have arrested unregistered migrant workers, worsening the problem of labour shortage in the construction industry.
Some migrant workers have switched from construction to work in factories while contractors, especially those in five southern provinces, are in deep trouble due to an insufficient labour force, he said.
The labour minister promised to ask the national police chief to send out instructions to police nationwide.
The minister will consult with the government on the possibility of setting up a labour police unit in the Labour Ministry to be in charge of cracking down on illegal migrant workers.
Labour police should thoroughly know the labour law and handle labour disputes or offences with better understanding, he said.
Published on 23 March 2013
Four people smugglers were sentenced to up to 10 years in prison by a Thai court after 54 illegal workers from Myanmar suffocated to death inside a seafood container, an official said on Friday.The 2008 incident was the deadliest in a wave of tragedies afflicting migrants making perilous journeys from impoverished Myanmar in search of work in neighbouring Thailand, where they often end up exploited and abused.
The victims were among 121 people crammed into the six metres (20 feet) by 2.2 metres container with a broken ventilation system for the journey to the resort island of Phuket to work as day labourers.
Four Thais were convicted on Thursday of gross negligence resulting in death and of breaking immigration laws, an official from a court in the country’s southern Ranong province told AFP.
The owner of the container truck was sentenced to 10 years in prison, a second defendant received nine years and a third — who owned a jetty in southern Thailand where the migrants arrived by boat — was jailed for six years.
A woman defendant had her sentence halved to three years after confessing, the official said.
“Three of them were granted bail of between $13,000 and $6,500 while they file appeals,” the official said, adding that one defendant had been held in custody after failing to meet bail terms.
The truck driver, who fled the scene after discovering the tragedy, was jailed for six years in August 2008 having admitted to his role in the crime, the official added.
Survivors have recounted desperately trying to raise the alarm as they fought for breath in the storage box.
“No matter how many times we hit the container the driver did not pay any attention,” one female migrant who was on board told Thai television.
More than two million migrant workers are registered to work in Thailand, most of them from Myanmar, labour ministry figures show, but as many as one million undocumented workers are believed to be in the kingdom.
Thailand this week extended a deadline by three months for unregistered migrants to gain a work permit or face deportation.
Huge numbers of people from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar work illegally in low-paid jobs in construction, seafood processing and clothing factories, where a lack of legal status leaves them vulnerable to exploitation.
By Bangkok Post
Published on 28 December 2012
No, no, no! That was the firm answer from Labour Minister Padermchai Sasomsap when the business sector and rights groups repeatedly asked him to extend the nationality verification deadline to allow migrant workers more time to obtain the passports, visas, and work permits required to work here legally.
Playing tough, Mr Padermchai also threatened to immediately deport any migrant workers who failed to meet the Dec 14 deadline.
As many as 2 million people may be subjected to this mass deportation. Don’t believe the 300,000 number quoted by the government. That’s far too low.
With no system for safe deportation, imagine the commotion that will ensue. The migrant workers, most of whom are from Myanmar, are destined to suffer from maltreatment and extortion from officials on both sides of the border.
Given Mr Padermchai’s past attempt to deport pregnant migrant women, I don’t think he cares.
The deportation threat has not only sent a wave of panic throughout the migrant communities, it has also worsened the country’s image internationally.
Thailand is already facing boycott warnings from the European Union and the US due to widespread human trafficking and abuse of migrant labour, particularly in the fishery industry.
Fear of forced deportation will push undocumented migrants deeper underground, make them even more vulnerable to labour abuses and subject them to more aggressive police extortion. Subsequently, Thailand will come under fiercer international scrutiny over human rights violations and probably face a new round of boycott threats.
Does Mr Padermchai know what he is doing?
To be fair, his hardline policy is no different than those undertaken by his predecessors _ which failed miserably.
Before the advent of the nationality verification scheme, the government tried to keep track of undocumented migrant workers through the registration system, which was plagued with problems. Among these maladies were red tape, high fees, an insufficient time frame for submission of paperwork, a lack of labour benefits, and no guarantee against police extortion.
Since the labour law still prohibits migrant workers’ mobility and changing of employers, and since their legal documents are still confiscated by the employers, a large number of migrants choose to stay underground rather than join the system.
To force migrant workers to register, the government’s tactic was to issue an ultimatum: register within the deadline, or face deportation. When the initial deadline came, employers protested and the labour authorities played tough. They would reach a compromise and either the deadline would be extended or another round of registration would be scheduled.
When the government opted for nationality verification as a process to legalise underground workers, the system was plagued by the same old problems, and more.
To start with, the workers were required to submit identification papers from their governments. This is often not possible due to poor civil registration systems in their home countries.
When combined with the problems of red tape, high fees, the prospect of debt bondage, and no guarantee of improved work conditions, many decided to stay underground.
It’s clear. If the government wants all undocumented workers to be part of the mainstream labour system, the legalisation process must be cheap and easily accessible. It must also offer clear benefits such as a minimum wage, freedom of movement, and the right to change jobs.
Yet, Thailand refuses to offer that. The underlying problem is deep-rooted prejudice against migrant workers. When viewed as national security threats, elimination is naturally the answer. Hence, the policy fixation on deportation.
Migration is a normal phenomenon throughout history. And until recently, integration has always been our country’s choice towards newcomers. This openness is key to the country’s economic vitality and cultural richness. Racist nationalism is a recent phenomenon.
Unless we see this, forced deportation will remain the core policy on migrant labour management. As Thailand’s population ages and younger workers are required to keep the economy alive, we’ll soon regret our refusal to allow migrants to be part of our workforce.
By then, we will not be able to blame anything else but our own prejudice.
By Bangkok Post
Published on 19 December 2012