Category Archives: Other Migration Issues in Mekong

Thai nightmare: Ordeal ends for migrants left for broke

Twenty-five migrant workers who claim they were duped out of hundreds of dollars by a Phnom Penh-based recruitment agency promising jobs in Thailand were repatriated yesterday after being arrested and detained by Thai authorities.

Sin Nang Young, commune chief of Banteay Meanchey province’s Poipet town – where the workers arrived yesterday – said the 25 men and women had been tricked by Best Power Co Ltd.

Best Power “ordered them to pay money to find them jobs in Thailand. But when they arrived, there were no jobs and they were arrested by Thai authorities,” she said, adding that the group had been detained for a day before being deported.

One of the workers, 27-year-old Sor Van, said the group paid $300 each on the promise of jobs in a Thai chicken factory.

“I wanted to work in Thailand and I chose the company to organise it legally,” he said.

Another worker, Sim Chan, said the 25 were arrested because the company had held onto their passports. Contact details for Best Power could not be found.

By: Sen David, The Phnom Penh Post

Boom tipped for builders

Thai firms likely to do well from mass of Myanmar projects

Thailand’s energy investment in Myanmar is expected to remain strong in the years to come, but firms in the construction industry are expected to play a much bigger role in the country following the many development projects approved.

Myanmar approved 340 high-rise projects nationwide in the first quarter of this year on top of 705 low-rise projects. That compares to 24 and nearly 400 last year, Pisanu Suvanajata, Thailand’s ambassador to Myanmar, told a seminar on “Gateway to the New Construction Era” last week.

He anticipates high demand for steel, cement and construction materials in response to the property development boom as well as the development of three special economic zones – Thilawa, Dawei and Kyaukphyu – and other public construction projects.

The Myanmar government recently approved US$7.8 billion (Bt253 billion) to construct roads and bridges, as the country gears up for the Asean Economic Community.

“Thai companies in Myanmar are operating in six industries. Next year, I’m convinced that investment in the construction industry will be the second [biggest],” he said later in an interview at the embassy.

The six industries include hotels, trading and agriculture.

In construction, Siam Cement Group’s $400 million cement plant will be operational in 2016, while Millcon Steel’s plant in Thilawa is expected to commence manufacturing in the same year after the start of construction in the third or fourth quarter of next year.

Sittichai Leeswadtrakul, chief executive officer of Millcon, said Myanmar would help complete the jigsaw puzzle, as the company aims to become an integrated supplier of steel in Asean, with greater capacity in commodity steel for CLMV nations and value-added steel mainly for the automobile industry in the region.

On the sidelines of the seminar, he said the complete acquisition of Thai Special Steel Industry (TSSI) and the relocation of commodity steel production to Myanmar are among the plans. Also planned for the future is finding new partners for two subsidiaries – Millcon Special Steel, established to take over TSSI, and Mill Thiha, a joint venture to operate the new steel plant in Myanmar.

“It’s hard to find skilled labour here. But migrant workers working with us in Thailand are encouraged to return here as supervisors. The investment here will not generate significant revenue for the company, but we’re here for a long-term stay in view of the potential of Myanmar,” he said.

The envoy sees opportunities in three main areas. The first relates to the government’s policy to lift the standard of living, which covers power and water supply as well as the manufacturing of hygiene products.

The second is connected to the government’s development policies designed for the three special economic zones. While Thilawa focuses on manufacturing, Kyaukphyu will be the petrochemical hub and Dawei will accommodate heavy industry.

The third covers trading, as purchasing power stands to rise as a result of economic reforms.

His concern is procrastination by Thai companies. A Bangkok Bank source has also said many customers showed interest in making inroads into the country, but few have made actual moves.

Thai embassy website

To woo Thai investors, the Thai Embassy on October 1 launched www.thaibizmyanmar.com website dedicated to providing information. It contains investment information ranging from macroeconomic outlook updates and the foreign investment law to the tax system. Daily and weekly subscriptions for Myanmar-related news are available.

A meeting room is provided inside the embassy where Thai companies can conduct talks with potential partners with beverages provided for free.

“We offer a preliminary consultation service. Should anyone seek more details, we can refer them to the recently launched Thai Business Association,” he said. “Our aim is to establish the right perception of Myanmar and guide Thai companies to new opportunities.”

While Myanmar likes to do business with Thailand, newcomers should incorporate corporate social responsibility into their operations from day 1. “People here treasure their natural resources. There’s a high tendency for companies for which profits come first to flop here. Don’t ask what the minimum wage is here. You’d better rephrase it to how much you should offer,” he said.

As of August, Thailand’s total investment in Myanmar nearly reached $10 billion.

According to the Directorate of Investment and Company Administration, 44 Thai companies have invested $3.1 billion in the country, accounting for 7.9 per cent of the $39.3 billion invested by foreign companies from 28 countries.

By: Achara Deboonme, The Nation

Burmese Government, Rights Groups Raise Concerns Over Koh Tao Murder Case

CHIANG MAI, Thailand – Questions linger over the controversial police investigation into the murder of two British tourists on Koh Tao that led to the arrest of two Burmese migrant workers last week.

The Burmese government is monitoring the case and President Thein Sein will raise the issue with Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha—who is scheduled to visit Burma from Oct. 9—according to President’s Office Director Zaw Htay.

“That issue [the detention of the two Burmese migrants] will be in the discussion,” Zaw Htay told The Irrawaddy, adding that Burmese government representatives were now trying to meet with the two migrants who are currently being detained on Koh Samui.

“It is important that the suspects dare to tell us the truth without fear when we meet them,” Zaw Htay said.

According to Thai police, the two Burmese migrants, identified as Win and Saw, confessed to the murders of Hannah Witheridge, 23, and David Miller, 24, on the island in Thailand’s Surat Thani province on Sept. 15. Thai police also said that DNA samples taken from the two suspects matched DNA found on one of the deceased.

Burma’s Ambassador to Thailand Win Maung told the Irrawaddy on Friday that he had asked a group of Thai and Burmese lawyers to find out from the two murder suspects whether or not the allegations were true.

“We don’t know what really happened,” Win Maung said. “Now, it is just a police finding. [The] case can be changed in court.”

“We will make sure [before taking any action]. Otherwise, it will be our mistake if our side is wrong. We worry for all our people [migrant workers] and we are trying to help them as much as we can,” he added.

Andy Hall, a British migrant rights activist based in Thailand, has also helped organize an independent legal team to undertake a fact finding mission, beginning yesterday, to ensure the two accused migrants receive a fair trial.

“It is very important that independent legal assistance is given to the [two detained] workers to ensure they get a proper trial,” Hall said. “We will be trying as much as we can.” The two suspects were reportedly kept without legal representation during their interrogation.

Hall also voiced concern over the treatment of other Burmese migrants during the investigation. According to the Burmese community on Koh Tao, some migrant workers were abused while being questioned by police, Hall said.

“We have a lot of suspicions about the whole process in which they questioned the migrant community,” said Hall. There are approximately 3 million Burmese migrant workers in Thailand, most of whom work in low-paid jobs where they are vulnerable to abuse, arrest and extortion by Thai employers or authorities.

Than Hlaing, one of six Burmese migrants who were questioned by Thai police last Thursday in connection with the Koh Tao murders, alleged that the group was beaten under interrogation. “They [the police] beat all of us while interrogating us. Three of us were seriously injured. But some got minor injuries,” Than Hlaing said. “They detained us for one night. They collected our records and took pictures of us. [Then] they finally told us that we were not guilty and released us.”

After hearing the news that two Burmese migrants were suspected of committing the murders, migrants living and working on Koh Tao expressed fears for their safety.

Sithu, a Burmese migrant worker on Koh Tao who was questioned by Thai police, said, “Burmese people here live in fear [after] police said that Burmese migrants committed the killing. If it is true, the situation will be more tough for the Burmese workers.”

Kyaw Thaung, director of the Bangkok-based Myanmar Association in Thailand (MAT), a labor rights group that helps Burmese migrant workers in Thailand, expressed doubts over the police investigation.

“The killing on Koh Tao is directly linked to the image of Thailand. So I think they [Thai police] will try to make it that Thai are not committing the crime because it will damage the image of the country,” he said.

By: Saw Yan Naing, The Irrawaddy

Concerns as agencies take over training

Employment agencies could be facing a conflict of interest in taking over the training of Myanmar citizens preparing to work overseas, a migrant workers’ advocate has warned.

Reiko Harima, managing director of the Asian Migrant Centre, said the Myanmar Overseas Employment Agency Federation (MOEAF) increased their members’ profits by sending more workers overseas, and so was “unlikely” to provide information that might deter them from going.

Pre-departure training, which is conducted in Yankin township, Yangon, is meant to inform migrants of the labour laws and cultural norms of the countries they are being sent to. Previously run by the Ministry of Labour, the MOEAF began conducting the courses on August 31.

“Employment agencies are unlikely to provide information that might put migrants off going overseas,” such as details of low pay and long hours, Ms Harima said.

She said the decision to allow employment agencies to regulate much of the migration process in Indonesia and Cambodia, which send thousands of workers abroad each year, had negatively affected prospective workers.

“These include recruitment when not enough jobs are actually secured by agencies, resulting in a long waiting period for workers” and insufficient information about workers’ rights, she said.

“Employment agencies might decide to not recruit migrants who are confident about demanding their rights,” she said.

MOEAF vice chair U Soe Myint Aung said controlling training would lead to better supervision of migrants. He also said that because the agency negotiates labour agreements with its foreign counterparts it was best suited to train the migrants.

But Ms Harima said protecting the migrants was a job for governments. “It’s rather unrealistic to expect agencies to play a front-line role in protecting domestic workers’ rights. It is the responsibility of governments to protect their citizens and workers, and it should be the government’s responsibility to strictly monitor the operation of recruitment agencies.”

By: Bill O’Toole, Myanmar Times

Australia-Cambodia refugee resettlement deal slammed by rights groups

Australia and Cambodia signed a $35 million deal that will see an unknown number of refugees currently housed in Australia’s offshore detention centers resettled in the impoverished Southeast Asian nation.

Cambodia’s Deputy Prime Minister Sar Kheng and Australia’s Immigration Minister Scott Morrison signed the agreement in Phnom Penh on Friday, September 26, in a four-minute-long ceremony that saw a tray of champagne flutes crash to the ground as they put pen to paper. After a brief round of applause from their respective entourages, both men ignored media questions and hurriedly left the room.

The secretive agreement, which has been under negotiation since February, has been widely condemned by rights groups and others. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees António Guterres condemned the deal to resettle refugees from the Pacific island of Nauru to Cambodia, adding that he was “deeply concerned” at the precedent it set.

“This is a worrying departure from international norms. We are seeing record forced displacement globally, with 87 percent of refugees now being hosted in developing countries. It is crucial that countries do not shift their refugee responsibilities elsewhere,” he said. “International responsibility sharing is the basis on which the whole global refugee system works. I hope that the Australian government will reconsider its approach,” Guterres added.

Protesters gathered at barricades near Australia's embassy in Phnom Penh on Friday morning to protest the signing of the deal later that day that will see refugees sent from Australia's detention centres to Cambodia(Photo: Carmichael/DW) UNHCR: ‘This is a worrying departure from international norms’

A joint statement handed to the media after Friday’s signing ceremony shed little new light on the issue beyond noting that Cambodia would decide when and how many refugees it would take, and stating that there would be an “initial trial arrangement with a small group of refugees, which will be followed by further resettlement in accordance with Cambodia’s capacity.” It reiterated that settlement would be “on a voluntary basis,” a condition Phnom Penh has insisted upon.

Earlier Morrison told Australia’s ABC network that the deal provided a regional solution to a regional problem, and met the Abbott government’s pledge that “no-one will be resettled in Australia.” He also said there was no upper limit on the number of refugees who might be sent, adding that it currently applies to people at the detention centre on the Pacific island of Nauru. Around 200 of the more than 1,200 asylum seekers there have been classified as refugees.

Australia has agreed to pay an additional 40 million AUD (35 million USD) in development aid over the next four years to Cambodia, which is considered one of the world’s most corrupt countries, with the money purportedly earmarked for projects such as electoral reform, rice milling and land-mine clearance. Australia will also fund the costs of the resettlement process.

But many aspects remain unknown, including how many refugees will come, where they will be housed, whether they will be allowed to work, and how they will access services in a country where provision of services is poor and government-sanctioned corruption is rife.

Controversial

The deal has proved highly controversial in Cambodia and abroad. In Phnom Penh on Friday morning, around 100 protestors petitioned the Australian embassy to scrap the agreement, saying Cambodia is too poor to help others.

Speaking to reporters at the demonstration, opposition chief whip Son Chhay condemned the secrecy that surrounded the drafting process, and warned against using Cambodia “as a dumping ground for unwanted refugees” by using money to buy off “a corrupt government.”

“We believe that this deal not just violates the Refugee Convention, but it [allows] some countries who have money [to be] able to buy off their responsibility towards refugees,” he said. “And [that] could create a bad habit for many countries to follow.”

Protester Son Chum Chuon said he was against the agreement because Cambodia lacks the capacity to handle the refugees and needs to sort out the entrenched problems facing its own people before it can assist others.

“The human rights system [and] the democracy system in Cambodia [are] still poor. That is the reason that some demonstrators want to gather in front of the Australian embassy today,” he said. “In future, if Cambodia [is] stable in democracy, stable in human rights, I am happy to see all those refugees. But now [I'm] not.”

Top secret

The deal has been on the cards since February when the visiting Australian Foreign Minister Julie Bishop asked Cambodia to take in refugees. Both countries subsequently maintained a near-uniform silence on the proposal until Wednesday when Cambodia’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs announced that Morrison would visit Phnom Penh to sign.

In the face of withering criticism, the Abbott government, which was elected in part on the promise that it would not allow more boats carrying asylum seekers to land in Australia, says it wants a regional solution to the issue of asylum seekers, and holds that many of those trying to reach its shores are economic migrants.

News of the signing has caused a storm of protest over the past two days. Opposition politicians in both countries have joined rights organizations, church groups and legal experts in condemnation. Alastair Nicholson, the former chief justice of Australia’s Family Court, described the deal as “inappropriate, immoral and likely illegal,” and said it raised serious concerns for the welfare of refugees and their children.

Survivors rest in a village center in Cidaun, West Java prorince on July 24, 2013(Photo: STR/AFP/Getty Images) Asylum seekers face threats in their home country

Nicholson, who was speaking on behalf of an alliance of organizations including Amnesty International, the Refugee Council of Australia, and Save the Children, said Cambodia’s welfare sector was already struggling.

“It is inappropriate because Cambodia has no capacity within its social sector to take an influx of refugees,” he said. “Immoral, because these vulnerable people are Australia’s responsibility and, while we await the detail, it appears illegal in contravening Australia’s humanitarian and refugee obligations to vulnerable children and families.”

Cambodia, one of the poorest countries in the world, already relies significantly on international donors to fund its social and welfare programmes.

“When you choose to place refugee children in the care of a country already dependent on the international donor community for supporting its own children, you make a clear choice to put refugee children and their families at serious risk,” Nicholson warned.

‘Unsafe and ill-equipped’

On Thursday, Human Rights Watch warned that Cambodia’s poor record on refugees and on human rights meant Australia was failing to meet its commitment that it would send people to a “safe third country.”

“Australia’s deal with Cambodia will send people to a country that has a terrible record for protecting refugees and is mired in serious human rights abuses,” said HRW’s Australia director Elaine Pearson. “Despite Canberra’s claims, the reality is Cambodia is both unsafe and ill-equipped to handle large numbers of refugees who will be given one-way tickets to Phnom Penh.”

Cambodia has a poor record when it comes to asylum seekers. In 2009, for example, the country sent a group of 20 Uighur asylum seekers back to China (where HRW said they were jailed). Within days it had received a billion-dollar package of grants and loans from Beijing.

According to UNHCR spokesperson Vivian Tan, Friday’s deal meant Australia’s international responsibilities towards refugees “are in question,” adding that people “fleeing conflict and persecution deserve compassion and help.”

Australian Prime Minister, Tony Abbott speaks to media at the Commonwealth Parliamentary Offices during a joint press conference on February 7, 2014 in Sydney, Australia(Photo: Brendon Thorne/Getty Images) Since coming to power last year, PM Abbott has tightened Australia’s asylum policy

“UNHCR has always advocated that asylum-seekers should be processed and benefit from protection in the territory of the country where they arrive or which otherwise has jurisdiction over them,” she said. “They should not be transferred to another country for asylum processing, and if recognized as refugees, relocated to yet another country for permanent settlement.”

Services lacking

Much of Cambodia’s infrastructure and social services remain in disarray after the destruction of the Khmer Rouge’s 1975-79 rule, civil war, and underinvestment by the government. Mental health services, for instance, are practically non-existent outside Phnom Penh. In addition, there are few jobs, and education and healthcare are poor.

Sister Denise Coghlan heads the Cambodian office of the Jesuit Refugee Service, which has operated here since 1990. Although Cambodia’s willingness to take in refugees was “a good thing,” she said the lack of mental health services is only one issue they will face.

“[Cambodia's] capacity to accept people who have been severely traumatized both by the situation in their own country and by their treatment by the Australian government – first on places like Christmas Island and then Nauru – these people have now been left in a very traumatized and psychologically weak situation,” she said. “The capacity of the mental health facilities in Cambodia to really cope with this kind of situation is pretty weak.”

By: Robert Carmichael, Deutsche Welle

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