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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
Press Release

Launch of

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: reiko@mekongmigration.org / +852 23120031; *Omsin (Plaii) Boonlert (English and Thai), MMN, Thailand: plaii@mekongmigration.org / +66-53-283259; or *Sopheap Suong (English and Khmer), Cambodian Women Crisis Centre (CWCC), Cambodia: BMCmanager@cwcc.org.kh / +85512969538

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Call for Thailand and Cambodia to address migration

PHNOM PENH, Cambodia – The Thai and Cambodian governments need to reform migration policies to prevent a repeat of June’s exodus that saw up to 300,000 Cambodians leave Thailand, migrant groups said Tuesday.

Workers from neighboring Cambodia fled Thailand following the May 22 military coup amid widespread rumors that the army and police were planning a crack down on illegal workers.

The rumors were fuelled by comments from an army spokesman who said illegal laborers were a threat to Thailand and threatened to deport anyone without papers.

The subsequent flood of people crossing the border into Cambodia was “one of the biggest movements of people since the 1970s in Southeast Asia,” Reiko Harima, regional coordinator of the Mekong Migration Network, said.

Harima was speaking at the launch of a report, “The Precarious Status of Migrants in Thailand,” by the network, an umbrella group of regional NGOs.

Pok Panhavichetr, executive director of the Cambodian Women’s Crisis Center, said interviews with 67 returned workers highlighted concerns about the cost of legal migration.

“Many migrants are receiving below the minimum wage,” she said. “The report introduces recommendations addressing the Thai and Cambodian governments, as well as the wider ASEAN [Association of Southeast Asian Nations] community, to learn from this experience and develop a more sustainable migration policy.”

Approximately 80 percent of Cambodian workers in Thailand are undocumented, according to Suong Sopheap, a program manager for the network based in the border city of Poipet.

A large demand for unskilled labor in Thailand and a lack of jobs and low pay in Cambodia fuel the westward migration of Cambodians, the vast majority of whom work on construction sites or in factories.

The report found “most migrants do not wish to abide by the law and obtain legal status in Thailand” because “many are currently finding the existing formal migration channels too expensive or inaccessible.”

The Cambodian government recently announced a reduction in the cost of passports for migrant workers from the equivalent of $124 to $4.

By Lauren Crothers
Published on 9 December 2014

Boatpeople Spotted Between Phuket and Krabi as Riddle of Missing Rohingya Grows, Phuket Wan

PHUKET: A vessel believed to be crammed with up to 100 Rohingya has been sighted off the coast of Krabi, near Phuket in Thailand, as the mystery over the whereabouts of thousands of boatpeople deepens.

The rickety boat was sighted off the mainland, heading for Koh Yao Yai, a small island that is home to several five-star resorts, between Krabi and Phuket.

Fishing trawlers and a network of small civilian vessels inform local district chiefs of sightings that are usually relayed to Thailand’s Department of Disaster Prevention and Mitigation, which oversees safety at sea.

”We think it was definitely a Rohingya boat,” an official said. ”But we lost contact with it quickly.”

As many as 12,000 members of the Muslim minority in Burma are reported to have fled to sea to avoid persecution since October 15 but only a few hundred have fetched up along Thailand’s Andaman Sea coast, alarming activists who fear something has gone amiss.

”Where are they?” Chris Lewa of the Arakan Project, which plots migration across the Bay of Bengal, told Reuters on Saturday. ”We have become very concerned.”

Back in 2009, Phuketwan journalists discovered that boatloads of Rohingya were being towed out to sea by the Thai military and left without engines or sails. Hundreds perished at sea before survivors washed ashore in India and Indonesia.

Five years on, there is no suggestion of a similar occurrence. But the families of the thousands who are now missing have no clue as to their fate.

Many could be being kept by traffickers in secret jungle camps in mangrove-covered islands along the shores of the Thai provinces of Phang Nga and Ranong, close to the border with Burma, where more than 500 boatpeople from Burma (Myanmar) and Bangladesh have been apprehended in recent weeks.

Almost all of those men, women and children have been taken into custody by local officials, working with Buddhist, Christian and Muslim volunteers to halt the flow of human trafficking victims through Thailand.

With each newly-discovered batch of boatpeople comes an extended debate about whether the unwanted arrivals are human trafficking victims or merely illegal immigrants.

Police and welfare organisations are reluctant to treat the arrivals as trafficked victims because funds and government accommodation are limited.

By categorising the Rohingya as ”Burmese” under laws that allow Thailand to deal more easily with unwanted arrivals from neighboring Burma, Laos and Cambodia, officials can quickly truck the apprehended groups back to the border where they are often delivered straight into the arms of human traffickers again.

The Rohingya, stateless in Burma, are denied all rights and being driven from Rakhine state by hateful Buddhist neighbors. It’s ironic that only as unwanted captives in neighboring Thailand can they achieve their aim of being categorised as Burmese citizens.

Along the coast, district authorities and village chiefs have formed networks among fishing boats to alert them to the presence of boatpeople fleeing Burma and Bangladesh.

Officials from the Department of Special Investigations and the Internal Security Operational Command in Bangkok recently visited the Andaman provinces to assess levels of human trafficking.

Of a boatload of 259 men, women and children who were apprehended near the town of Kaper, 80 Bangladeshis have been sent for processing through a court in Ranong while the other 219 are to be deported as ”Burmese Muslims.”

Burma does not accept the Rohingya as citizens so they cannot return. These people are destined for human traffickers.

Of 86 people being held in the nearby town of Kuraburi, 12 categorised as ”Burmese Muslims” are being sent to Immigration in Phang Nga while the others, all Bangladeshis, are to appear in Phang Nga court as illegal immigrants.

As trafficking networks grow along the region’s Indian Ocean coastline, growing numbers of men from Bangladesh are also being enticed onto boats in search of better jobs in Malaysia.

Bangladeshi authorities are holding five Thais who have been accused of human trafficking and other arrests have been made in Thailand.

Boatpeople Apprehended in Thailand, Sailing Season 2014-2015

September 23 37 boat people at Takaupa, categorised as illegal immigrants. Sentenced to 20 days in jail, now held by Immigration for deportation

October 11 53 boatpeople at Takaupa, categorised as victims of human trafficking, held in shelters at Ranong, Songkhla and Phang Nga

October 13 81 boatpeople at Takaupa, categorised as victims of human trafficking, held in shelters at Ranong, Songkhla and Phang Nga

October 24 boatpeople at Suksamran, categorised as illegal immigrants, sent to Ranong Immigration

October 78 boatpeople at Suksamran, Twelve ”Burmese Muslims” sent to Ranong Immigration, Bangladeshis passed to court system

November 8 299 (overnight suddenly reduced to 259) boatpeople at Kaper. 80 Bangladeshis sent Ranong court, 179 ”Burmese Muslims” at Ranong Immigration

November 11 86 boat people at Kuraburi, 12 ”Burmese Muslims” to Phang Nga Immigration, Bangladeshis to Phang Nga court

ByChutima Sidasathian and Alan Morison

Ranong villagers trained to feed and ‘push on’ Rohingya boat people

Officials in Ranong have trained some 400 villagers to watch out for illegal Rohingya ‘boat people’ and told them to alert the authorities if they see anyone from the stateless ethnic group.
The move is part of a project called “Andaman Guard”. It aims to convince migrants travelling along the route from Myanmar to Thailand not to go ashore – by providing them food, medicine and fuel so they can continue to a third country.Ranong police captured 299 Rohingya – including 23 women and 13 children – in two round-ups this month, deputy provincial chief Pol Colonel Kritsak Sungmulnak said.

The first of 104 Rohingya arrests in Ranong was recorded to have occurred in 1998, with the number of illegal migrants entering the country rising each year.

They travel the 1255km from western Myanmar to Thailand on fishing boats when the sea is generally calmer between November and April. Thousands are said to have taken to boats in recent weeks. The journey typically takes about a fortnight.

By The Nation

Thailand to push back more than 200 boat people

More than 200 boat people held in southern Thailand will be pushed back out to sea, police said on Monday, despite calls by rights group to stop a policy that puts would-be asylum seekers at risk.

Around 259 people were found at sea on Saturday and were arrested for illegal entry.

Their discovery around 3 km (1.86 miles) from the coast follows what one NGO said was a “major maritime exodus” from neighboring Myanmar of Rohingya, a mostly stateless Muslim minority group from the country’s west.

“On average around 900 people left by boat from the middle of last month. We saw a major maritime exodus of nearly 10,000 people,” said Chris Lewa of the Arakan Project, a Rohingya advocacy group, adding that increasing desperation was one reason for the departures.

Authorities in Thailand’s Kapoe district said it was unclear whether any of the group were Rohingya but interviews with some of the group showed they were heading for Malaysia to find work or, in the women’s’ cases, join their husbands.

The 259 will be put back on boats and sent back to Myanmar, said Police Colonel Sanya Prakobphol, head of Kapoe district police.

“They are Muslims from Myanmar … They are illegal migrants,” Sanya told Reuters by telephone.

“If they come in then we must push them back … once they have crossed the sea border into Myanmar then that’s considered pushing them back. What they do next is their problem.”

Tens of thousands of Rohingya Muslims have fled Myanmar’s Rakhine state since 2012, when violent clashes with ethnic Rakhine Buddhists killed hundreds and made about 140,000 homeless.

Many were Rohingya, who now often live in apartheid-like conditions and have little or no access to jobs, schools or healthcare.

The boats often sail from Myanmar and Bangladesh to Thailand where, as Reuters reported last year, human trafficking-gangs hold thousands of boat people in brutal jungle camps until relatives pay ransoms to secure their release.

Testimonies from Bangladeshi and Rohingya survivors in an October Reuters Special Report provided evidence of a dramatic shift in human-trafficking tactics.

Sanya said the 259 people were currently being held at a community hall and that his team were “looking after them like relatives” but that they would soon be put back on boats.

“Who will feed them? I’m struggling day to day to feed them,” said Sanya.

“No country wants an outsider to come in to their house.”

Thailand was downgraded in June to the lowest category in the U.S. State Department’s annual ranking of the world’s worst human-trafficking centers, putting it in the same category as North Korea and the Central African Republic.

The same month, the Thai military vowed to “prevent and suppress human trafficking”, after having seized power from an elected government on May 22.

By: Amy Sawitta Lefevre, Reuters

Published on: 10 November 2014

 

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