Category Archives: Laos

Thailand’s migrant sex workers fear for the future

Bua used to earn up to 40,000 baht ($1,300) a month as a sex worker in Thailand’s northern province of Chiang Mai when the coronavirus forced entertainment venues to close, leaving her jobless.

Since March, the 32-year-old single mother, who is Burmese, has racked up debts of more than 15,000 baht to pay for her daughter’s education and rent.

Bua survived on handouts from the sex worker group Empower Foundation, which ranged from rice to tampons, since government handouts required her to show a Thai identification card.

“If it wasn’t for Empower, I would have committed suicide,” said Bua, who asked in a phone interview not to use her real name and requested anonymity so family members did not find out about her work.

While Thailand has announced plans for bars, pubs and karaoke venues to re-open from Wednesday this week after being closed for four months, sex workers fear there will be few clients as most are foreigners and the borders remain closed.

A 2014 UNAIDS report estimated there were 123,530 sex workers in Thailand but advocacy groups put the figure at more than twice that number, including tens of thousands of migrants from neighbouring Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Vietnam.

Many young women are now among the 2 million Thais the state planning agency believes may be made unemployed this year because of the impact of the virus.

In Thailand, prostitution is illegal and punishable by a fine of 1,000 baht, and customers who pay for sex with underage workers can be jailed for up to six years.

But over the years, the country has come to be known for sex tourism, with large numbers frequenting bars, massage parlours and karaoke lounges that have multiplied as tourist numbers soared as the law is not enforced.

The coronavirus crisis has forced many sex workers to turn to new types of work, from selling goods to becoming waitresses. But for migrant workers, there are fewer options.

LEFT OUT

Activists say migrant or stateless sex workers are among the hardest hit by the economic impact of the coronavirus.

When Bua applied for a job at a grocery store, she was told they preferred to hire Thai staff despite her perfect Thai.

“We have been abandoned. We have been made invisible, even though we face more hardship than others and were the first (to be unemployed after the coronavirus),” said Mai Junta, a representative from Empower Foundation in Chiang Mai.

Thailand has introduced a raft of measures to help workers affected by the coronavirus, including financial aid for informal Thai workers and for Thai and foreign workers registered under the social security system.

But a survey by Empower in April found only 5% of sex workers are part of the social security system, and 35% have no access to government aid. The rest could access cash relief.

“The government should help all nationalities, since at the end of the day we are all human beings who have suffered (from the outbreak). The government shouldn’t discriminate,” Mai told the Thomson Reuters Foundation.

The Department of Women’s Affairs and Family Development said it provides relief supplies and job training for sex workers and plans to amend the prostitution law to allow them to access social welfare benefits.

The Service Workers in Group (SWING), a support organisation for sex workers, conducted a survey in May that found some sex workers in Bangkok were refused financial aid after they indicated they were sex workers.

“But some got the 5,000 baht (aid) because they lied (about their occupation). There’s no place for sex workers in this government’s policy,” SWING president Chalidaporn Songsamphan told a livestream discussion hosted by the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand in May.

“The Thai state has had this ambivalence towards sex work and sex workers. This is a factor that explains why so many of them can’t access any assistance from the state.”

Despite entertainment venues re-opening, 50-year-old Mint – not her real name – doubts business will be back to normal with the country’s borders still closed, crippling tourism in Bangkok which was the world’s most visited city for four years.

After losing her job in Chiang Mai, the Burmese sex worker moved in with a friend to split the rent, selling her jewellery to pay for the housing.

She applied for a job as a masseuse but was rejected by several places even though she was trained, because Thai law prohibits foreigners from working in certain jobs.

When she applied as a chef at a restaurant, she was told she was too old.

“I’m so stressed out … with no money left and I can’t go back home,” said Mint, who requested anonymity in a phone interview because of the shame associated with prostitution.

“I guess I’ll just have to grin and bear it. I don’t know what else to do.”

Written by Nanchanok Wongsamuth
Source: Reuters
Published on 30 June 2020
Link: https://www.reuters.com/article/us-thailand-unemployment-women-trfn/thailands-migrant-sex-workers-fear-for-the-future-idUSKBN2412ZD

Thousands of Jobless Lao Workers Return Home From Thailand in Last Two Months

As many as 3,000 Lao workers have returned home during the last two months, crossing the border from Thailand after losing their jobs amid business shut-downs due to coronavirus fears, sources in Laos say.

Hundreds of thousands of the 2.8 million foreign workers in Thailand returned to neighboring countries Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia after losing their jobs when their employers ran into economic hardships as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to NGOs and governments.

Laos continues to see migrant workers return home, the flow slowed by restrictions imposed to fight the pandemic, in addition to the more than 200,000 who’ve already returned from Thailand.

“In the last two months there have been from 2,000 to 3,000 returnees. We don’t know the exact number,” an official at the Labor and Social Welfare Department in the capital Vientiane told RFA’s Lao Service this week.

“After returning from Thailand, some of the Lao workers have come into the capital, and some have gone to other provinces,” the official said, speaking on condition of anonymity.

“They’re coming back because of the COVID-19 pandemic, factory closures, and unemployment,” he added.

Thailand, which has reported fewer than 3,200 cases overall with 58 deaths, has started to open cautiously after going a month without a confirmed COVID-19 case. But job opportunities, particularly in the tourism and service sectors, are not expected to recover rapidly.

“Many Lao workers have gone home because the shops and stores are still closed,” one worker told RFA on June 23. “Only a few are still open, and those that are open are accepting only two or three workers.”

Waiting for orders

Around 20 Lao workers receive permission each day from the governor of Thailand’s Mukdahan province to cross the border to return home, a Thai official at the Second Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge border checkpoint said.

“But for travelers coming in [to Thailand], this border gate is not open yet. We’re waiting for an order from the government,” he said.

A Lao labor official in Savannakhet province meanwhile said that up to 600 Lao workers have already returned from Thailand so far in June.

“Some of the returnees would like to go back to their jobs in Thailand, but in order to go back to Thailand right now they will have to have proper permission and be certified by a doctor to be in good health.”

“They will also have to pay the costs of being quarantined in Thailand by themselves,” he added.

Almost 200,000 Lao workers have now returned home since Thailand opened its border crossings with Laos to let them cross.

Laos’ Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare has meanwhile been registering information about Lao citizens who have lost their jobs due to the coronavirus pandemic, the first step in what workers hope will be a government response to help them get through tough times, sources in Laos said last month.

Source: Radio Free Asia
Published on 24 June 2020
Link: https://www.rfa.org/english/news/laos/return-06242020151026.html

Police on look out for illegal border crossings

The Immigration Bureau (IB) is gearing up its efforts to prevent thousands of migrant workers from Laos and Cambodia from sneaking into Thailand illegally through natural channels to seek jobs.

Pol Lt Gen Sompong Chingduang, chief of the IB, said on Saturday immigration police are concerned about illicit border crossings as the border is still closed to limit the spread of Covid-19.

Foreigners still aren’t allowed to enter the kingdom, he said. Some migrants crossing the border illegally may bring viral infections with them which will not be caught by screening authorities, observers say.

 Pol Gen Chakthip Chaijinda, the national police chief, had ordered him to get first-hand information in the four northeastern border provinces of Ubon Ratchathani, Si Sa Ket, Bung Kan and Nong Khai about possible crossings.

Ubon Ratchathani, Bung Kan and Nong Khai have borders with Laos while Ubon Ratchathani and Si Sa Ket have borders with Cambodia.

Pol Lt Gen Sompong was speaking yesterday when he met his immigration police at the Thai-Lao Friendship Bridge crossing point in Nong Khai.

“I ordered immigration police to work closely with border police and soldiers in in arresting illegal border crossers. More importantly, state officials themselves must not get involved with such offences,” he said.

He said the immigration police will launch a campaign in the Northeast to crack down on migrant workers who illegally enter the region to work.

Pol Maj Gen Surapong Chaichan, deputy chief of the IB, who accompanied his chief to inspect the work of immigration police, said Thailand needs more migrant workers from neighbouring countries to work if the country opens its doors again.

However, he said while the country’s borders remain closed, many migrant workers have attempted to sneak in via natural channels especially the Mekong River, while some had tried to smuggle drugs in too.

He said immigration police in Nong Khai have seized more than 5 million speed pills and a large amount of dried cannabis over the past few months.

The government on Saturday reported a new case of Covid-19 infection, a Thai returning from Bahrain and in state quarantine, raising the total to 3,147 with no new deaths.

The Thai, 28, has been in a state quarantine facility in Chon Buri since returning from the Middle Eastern country on June 14.

On June 18, she tested positive but showed no symptoms, the Centre for Covid-19 Situation Administration reported on Saturday.

The new infection brought the total number of infections in Thailand to 3,147 with 58 deaths since January.

Thailand has reported no local transmission for 26 days in a row.

Written by Nassayos NhamKham
Source: Bangkok Post
Published on 21 June 2020
Link: https://www.bangkokpost.com/thailand/general/1938336/police-on-look-out-for-illegal-border-crossings

IOM and Quizrr Launch Online Training App for Migrants in Thailand

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) in partnership with Quizrr, a leading digital training solution provider, this week (15 June) launched the Laotian version of the interactive, migrant-friendly online training application, which provides pre-employment and on-the-job app-based learning to migrant workers.

The app aims to educate both workers and their managers on their basic rights and responsibilities, with a focus on the importance of ethical recruitment, and ways to put these principles into practice.

In 2019, IOM piloted this application and has received positive responses from both employers and migrant workers. Currently, the online training is being piloted at a Post-Arrival Center for migrant workers in Mae Sot, Tak province as well as 17 factories and training locations across Thailand.

“Our assessments have found that important information regarding basic labour rights and workplace procedures are often inaccessible to migrant workers. Most migrant workers are unaware of their rights. We hope that this innovative and comprehensive online training will offer greater access to important information for all migrant workers,” said IOM Thailand Chief of Mission Dana Graber Ladek.

She concluded, “Information is essential to ensuring migrants can better exercise their rights, and access to protection, support and services. Quizrr is a great way to acquire not only information but also soft skills like negotiation and teamwork.”

Already available in Khmer, Myanmar and Thai—and providing voice support in each language—the app is projected to reach at least 1,000 migrants from Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, and Myanmar in Thailand during the its initial pilot phase.

The hour-long training is interactive and contains short films designed to help migrants to easily gain and retain information about their rights and responsibilities, occupational safety and health and workplace dialogue. Workers can quantify their learning by answering questions on the different topics.

“The application offers an engaging learning module, covering employment practices, workplace policies, workplace dialogue, and management practices. A highlight of the updated version of the app is a new module providing information on COVID-19 in all four languages,” said Sofie Nordström, founder and Deputy Chief Executive Officer at Quizrr, the Sweden-based technology company that developed the learning platform.

She added: “In these uncertain times, information on employment rights and ethical practices is more important than ever. Everyone needs proper knowledge on how to stay safe and healthy, and how to prevent spreading COVID-19. By collaborating with IOM we can add COVID-19 information in the app not only for migrant workers from neighbouring countries in Thailand, but also in China and Bangladesh.”

Besides benefiting migrants, the application will help employers by providing a dashboard to measure the training results, benchmark performance and take action based on real data disaggregated by gender and nationality. Employers can use this data to arrange for more targeted training to suit the needs of their migrant employees, filling in any information or knowledge gaps according to the training results.

The application was developed as part of IOM’s Poverty Reduction through Safe Migration, Skills Development and Enhanced Job Placement in Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar and Thailand (PROMISE), a regional programme led by IOM and funded by the Swiss Agency for Development and Cooperation (SDC). The objective of the programme is to define a clear pathway to promote better employment opportunities and working conditions for migrants, especially women from Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar (CLM), through safe migration and skills development in partnership with the private sector, training institutions, civil society and governments.

Source: IOM
Published on 16 June 2020
Link: https://www.iom.int/news/iom-and-quizrr-launch-online-training-app-migrants-thailand

Migrant workers left destitute by economic nosedive

Four months pregnant, unemployed and relying on money borrowed from friends, War War Hywe, a 29-year-old migrant worker from Myanmar’s city of Mandalay, wishes she could go home.

At the very least, she will have enough to feed herself and her unborn child. But the harsh reality is the border remains shut and she cannot find a new job during the lingering Covid-19 crisis, although her debts keep multiplying.

Her husband went back to Myanmar to apply for a passport before the outbreak struck but the border closed before he had a chance to come back to Thailand.

War War Hywe is living alone in a small rented room in Om Yai area of Nakhon Pathom where she and her husband worked at a textile factory for five years before the business closed.

“If I wasn’t pregnant, it would be fine if I skipped a meal. But now that I’m four months pregnant, I’m very worried about the baby’s health,” – War War Hywe, a migrant worker.

She delved into her savings to pay rent and food expenses but quickly ran out of money, forcing her to take out a loan. She moved into a rented room she shares with other migrant workers to reduce her costs.

War War Hywe remembers when her boss at the factory told her and fellow migrant workers to take extra days off without pay. Even then, the move did not strike her as spelling an end to her employment.

While Thai workers at the factory were covered under the social security system and receive unemployment benefits, migrant workers holding pink cards are not so lucky. The card grants migrant workers the right to work temporarily in Thailand pending their application for a work permit.

“My friends agreed to help me with the room sharing and to help find money to buy food. They took pity on me,” War War Hywe said, adding she has run up debts of over 10,000 baht. “All I want now is for someone to take me home so that I no longer have to deal with this on my own.”

“If I wasn’t pregnant, it would be fine if I skipped a meal. But now that I’m four months pregnant, I’m very worried about the baby’s health,” she said, stroking her bulging belly. All she can do now is keep telling her baby to be strong while waiting for her husband to come back soon.

Khamphun, a male migrant worker from Laos, is in a better situation. He still has a job, although he now works only two to three days a week, earning about 20% to 30% of the pay he made before Covid-19.

He has been employed at a plastic factory in the Rama II area of Bangkok for more than 10 years. Before the crisis, he and his wife used to send home 10,000 baht a month, much of which is used to repay his mortgage and feed their children back in Laos.

Now, the couple manages to wire only 2,000 baht a month to Laos because they had to take a pay cut. Mr Khamphun’s mother has had to borrow money to repay the debt for him.

“I wish the Covid-19 crisis would blow over soon so everything could return to normal,” he said.

The pandemic has dashed his hopes of paying off his mortgage in two years and save 200,000 baht to open his dream business of repairing electrical appliances in his hometown in Savannakhet province.

He and his wife are covered by the social security system. About 500 baht is deducted from their pay per month and contributed to the Social Security Fund (SSF). However, the fund has waived the employees’ monthly contributions for three months until next month in light of the Covid-19 crisis.

The suspension of the SSF monthly contributions is one of the measures which were rolled out to ease expenses for workers. The non-governmental organisations who defend migrant workers’ rights have urged the government to do more to cushion the impact of the economic fallout from the crisis on migrant workers.

They proposed the government set aside a fund to help boost employment and to finance the rehabilitation of businesses damaged by the Covid-19 outbreak.

Written by Penchan Charoensuthipan
Source: Bangkok Post
Published on 19 May 2020
Link: https://www.bangkokpost.com/thailand/general/1920492/migrant-workers-left-destitute-by-economic-nosedive

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