Category Archives: Other Migration Issues in Mekong

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

China brides: Four women back home after ordeal

Twelve Cambodian women cheated by marriage brokers who sent them to China have been rescued by the Cambodian and Chinese authorities, officials confirmed to the Post yesterday.

As of yesterday, four of the 12 had already been repatriated, while the rest are still waiting in China.

“The Cambodian consulate issued legal documents for them to come back home and cooperated with Chinese authorities to provide them a visa,” said Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong.

Kuong appealed to Cambodian women to be wary of brokers who lure them to China with promises of well-compensated jobs or marriages.

Sum Van, 43, the mother of one of the women, said her daughter had married in search of a better life.

“I agreed with her marriage in China because she wanted to live there and we hoped she could get a new, happy family, but she was mistreated by her husband and his family,” she said.

 By: Sen David, The Phnom Penh Post

Fishy plan for inmates under fire. Low-risk prisoners to work on boats.

Activists have poured scorn on a plan to put low-risk prisoners to work on fishing trawlers in a bid to ease overcrowding in jails.

Surapong Kongchanthuek, a human rights lawyer attached to the Lawyers Council of Thailand, said he backs work programmes for prisoners, but warned jobs on fishing trawlers are “not a good idea”.

The government plan is an attempt to ease prison overcrowding and improve the fishing industry, notorious for using trafficked workers.

“Even though participation in the programme is voluntary, I don’t think prisoners have real choices — when they have to choose between jail or work on a fishing boat,” he said.

Mr Surapong said sending prisoners to sea will not help prepare them for release, claiming inmates should be given training inside a closed facility such as a factory.

“By obtaining work experience in a factory, they would acquire skills and have a chance to adapt to the outside environment before their release,” he said.

Action Network for Migrants representative Sathian Thanprom said the policy raises questions over occupational risks and how inmates would be monitored after they ship out. He argued that using electronic monitoring devices to track inmates would do more harm than good.

“If they have to wear something to show their ‘inmate’ status, I don’t think they will be interested. It’s better for them to wait until they leave prison, so they can work without anyone knowing they are ex-convicts,” he said.

Justice permanent secretary Chatchawal Sumsomjit said the government is ready to roll out the programme, which has been backed by Justice Minister Paiboon Koomchaya and Labour Minister Surasak Karnjanarat. He said that participation in the programme will be voluntary, adding inmates can seek other jobs if they don’t want to work on fishing boats.

Pol Gen Chatchawal said the project has the potential to help solve prison overcrowding while also eliminating the problem of forced labour and human trafficking in the fishing sector.

Thailand has 143 prisons holding 320,000 people across the country.

Corrections Department director-general Witthaya Suriyawong said he has discussed the scheme with the Fishing Trawlers Association and received positive feedback.

He said the department has also approached the industrial sector for cooperation on other work programmes for prisoners.

Amata Industrial Estate in Chon Buri is the first to agree to hire prisoners and pay them wages, he said, adding that inmate workers will have the opportunity to develop vital skills before they are deleased.


Phubet Chanthanimi, chairman of the Fishing Association of Thailand, said he and others in the fishing industry are willing to support the work programme for inmates.

“It is something we should support. We give migrant workers with no papers or identification the chance to work. The inmates deserve it too,” he said.

He claimed working conditions on fishing trawlers are not as bad as most people believe, saying that fishing operators have strict rules they must abide to.

Commenting on wider efforts to tackle prison overcrowding, Mr Witthaya said the justice minister has a plan to separate “big-time” drug offenders from “small-time” dealers.

The Office of Narcotics Control Board has been asked to make a list of major drug traffickers and low-level dealers so the department can sort the offenders, he said.

Of all 320,000 prisoners nationwide, 70% or 200,000 are locked up on drug-related charges. Of these, 100,000 are users or small-time dealers.

Pol Gen Chatchawal said the Justice Ministry has spent 74 million baht on 3,000 tracking bracelets for use in 22 provinces.
The electronic monitoring tags will enable authorities to track offenders using GPS technology. Pol Gen Chatchawal said judges will be allowed to decide whether offenders can be released from prison early if they wear the electronic tags.

By: King-Oua Laohong and Penchan Charoensuthipan, The Bangkok Post

After New Wage, Dissent Over Take Home Pay

Following months of fraught negotiations that led to the Labor Ministry setting the minimum wage in the garment sector at $128 last week, debate has begun over just how much garment workers will have in their pockets at the end of each month as a result of the increase.

The minimum wage for workers in the country’s crucial garment sector will rise 28 percent from $100 per month on January 1 next year, but estimates of the average take-home pay—taking into account overtime and allowances—vary widely.

In recent days, the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC), which represents the country’s 500 exporting factories, has gone on the offensive against the wage hike, placing newspaper advertisements and statements on social media setting out what it says will be the true take-home wage of garment workers.

GMAC claims that on average, workers will in fact earn $225 to $250 when overtime and seniority payments are taken into account.

The association calculates that after adding a minimum $7 transport and accommodation allowance and a $10 monthly bonus for good attendance, workers will start with a base of $145 per month. It then factors in two hours a day of overtime and seniority bonuses to come up with the total figure.

“For the industry, the new wage makes Cambodia increasingly uncompetitive in a tough global environment where factories in other countries can deliver more efficiently,” GMAC said in a statement Tuesday that also called for a new, favorable tax system to offset the minimum wage costs, along with major improvements in infrastructure.

However, Jill Tucker, technical adviser for the International Labor Organization’s Better Factories Cambodia program, says GMAC’s calculations fail to consider several important factors, including that the government has not specified that all workers’ wages must rise by $28, meaning that only the lowest-paid workers are likely to see a pay increase.

“The last wage increase, it was actually written into the prakas that all workers would get $20 more, but it’s not written into this one…so I think it’s going to be up to the factories to make that decision,” she said.

Ms. Tucker said the ILO has calculated the current average take-home wage to be $165 for line workers, adding she did not expect buyers to scale back on their commitments to factories in Cambodia following the wage revision.

“Every time the wage rises in Cambodia, the garment manufacturers’ association states that the sky will fall in and that it’s the end of the world,” she said.

“So far, that hasn’t happened and I don’t believe that will happen this time either.”

By Holly Robertson, The Cambodia Daily

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
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