Category Archives: Arrest, Detention and Deportation

UPDATE – Chronology of Thai NCPO Immigration Policy

This chronology is current as of 31July 2014.  Please also see the new figures from the Thai Department of Labor regarding the numbers of migrant workers registered at each One Stop Service center across the country.
http://mekongmigration.org/add/?page_id=55#ff

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

106 illegal migrants caught

Soldiers from Rangers Company 1205 of the Burapa Force rounded up 106 illegal Cambodian migrant workers at a sugar cane plantation near the border in Sa Kaeo’s Aranyaprathet district yesterday.

Soldiers and immigration police headed to the area after receiving information that a large number of illegal Cambodian workers had sneaked across the border and were hiding in the plantation near Ban Khao Din in tambon Khlong Thap Chan.

The 106 Cambodians — 67 men, 33 women, three boys and three girls — said they were from Battambang province.

They were waiting for transport to construction sites in Chon Buri and Rayong.

Sa Yod, 30, who can speak Thai, said their former employers told them to let a smuggling gang lead them across the border to wait for transport on the Thai side.

They were told that after arriving in Chon Buri and Rayong they could register for a work permit at the one-stop-service centre right away without having to pay 3,000-3,500 baht each for a border pass in Cambodia.

He said they each paid 2,500 baht to the smuggling gang.

The illegal Cambodian migrants will be repatriated back to their home country after going through legal procedures in Aranyaprathet.

The arrest of illegal migrant workers is part of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO)’s campaign to regulate migrant labour in Thailand so they can live and work in the country and receive proper work benefits including health care.

By: 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

Thai and Burmese Officials to Begin Talks on Repatriation

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Thai and Burmese authorities will begin talks soon over plans for the repatriation of Burmese refugees, but the UN refugee agency cautions that many obstacles remain to their safe return home, including land mines and the possibility of further conflict.

Vivian Tan, a spokeswoman for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), said conditions in southeastern Burma, where most of the Burmese refugees in Thailand camps come from, are not conducive to an organized repatriation at this time.

“There are still challenges on the ground, including the absence of a permanent ceasefire, the presence of unmarked mine fields and the lack of critical infrastructure, services and livelihood opportunities,” she told The Irrawaddy on Thursday.

Thai and Burmese authorities will meet to discuss repatriation from Aug. 1-3 in Mergui, in southern Burma. The meeting will be attended by Lt-Gen Preecha Chan-ocha, co-chairman of the Thai-Burma Regional Border Committee, according to a recent report by the Bangkok Post newspaper, which cited a Thai army source.

“Lt-Gen Preecha will inspect progress of a port construction project in Mergui and discuss preparations to relocate about 130,000 Burmese refugees,” the newspaper reported.

The army source added that the Thai junta’s policy is to “send back all of them [the refugees] and close down all nine camps to end chronic security problems posed by the refugees.”

Sally Thompson, executive director of The Border Consortium (TBC), a humanitarian aid organization that provides aid to the refugees, said her organization did not expect to be invited to the bilateral meeting between Thai and Burmese authorities.

“We understand that discussions between Thai and Burmese authorities have been in general terms, but we are not aware of any specific plans or time frame [for repatriation]. Currently all sides agree that return should be according to international principles,” she told The Irrawaddy.

Tan also said the UNHCR would not attend the bilateral talks between Thai and Burmese authorities. However, she said the UNHCR’s position on voluntary repatriation was in line with that of both governments, which she said had reaffirmed their commitment for a safe return of refugees in accordance with humanitarian and human rights principles.

“In short, all parties agree that any refugee returns to Burma must be voluntary and be conducted in safety and dignity,” she said.

According to the Bangkok Post, Thailand has divided the refugees into three categories: refugees who want to return home, those who wish to resettle in a third country, and those who were born in refugee camps on Thai soil and wish to remain in Thailand.

Eligible refugees who have UNHCR registration documents and do not want to return to Burma can still apply for individual resettlement in a third country, but the process will take longer, according to Thompson.

Tan said registered refugees in the camps—especially those with specific protection concerns or vulnerabilities—can approach the UNHCR to express their interest in resettlement to a third country, or they can be identified as candidates for this by the UNHCR and its partners.

“That has always been the case. We submit their cases to the resettlement countries for consideration, and at the end of the day it is the resettlement countries that decide whether or not to accept these individuals,” she said.

“The US, Canada and Australia have not stopped resettling Myanmar [Burmese] refugees from Thailand’s border camps, but continue to accept Burmese refugees from Thailand on an individual basis. Vulnerable refugees can still access resettlement to Australia, Canada and the US and be considered on an individual basis,” she added.

However, the US group resettlement program, which featured a simplified procedure to process Burma refugees, came to an end in January, she said.

The UNHCR spokesperson said there had been no agreement about what will happen to refugees who are unable or unwilling to repatriate or resettle in a third country.

According to TBC, the current policy of Thailand does not allow refugees to work outside the camps and there are no indications that local integration will be offered as a long-term solution.

By: Saw Yan Naing, The Irrawaddy

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