Category Archives: Other Migration Issues in Mekong

The container village migrants oiling Thailand’s economy, AFP

BANGKOK (AFP) – The village sprang up in a matter of days — neat lines of bright yellow houses that looked like something a child might have built with Lego bricks. This eye-catching complex on the outskirts of Bangkok is unlikely to win any architectural awards.
But for the hundreds of migrants who live there it is an unusually neat home in a country where poorly paid foreign workers all too often toil in harsh conditions.

The village is made out of refurbished shipping containers, stacked three blocks high and connected by a series of walkways and ladders.

Over the next three years its 800 or so inhabitants will construct one of the many luxury condo blocks that add to the Thai capital’s ever-shifting skyline.

Standing amid piles of bags and boxes as she prepares to move into her container, 28-year old Cambodian national Duan is upbeat, despite having momentarily mislaid her television.

“Life here is better,” she tells AFP. “Living in Cambodia was good but I couldn’t earn as much money.”

Duan is one of an estimated four million foreign migrant workers who have flocked to Thailand in search of higher wages, often in the kind of low-paid, physically demanding and sometimes dangerous industries that comparatively wealthy Thais now have little appetite for.

The vast majority of these workers, many of whom are undocumented, hail from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos and work inside the construction, agriculture, fishing and manufacturing industries.

Without them Thailand’s economy would grind to a halt.

– Jobs no-one else will do –


“Migrant labourers are now working in areas where Thais no longer wish to work,” explains Jeff Labovitz, chief of mission in Thailand for the International Organization for Migration (IOM).

“They’re more dangerous than other jobs, the conditions are not necessarily as good and the pay is not necessarily as high. But for those people coming to Thailand, it’s much higher and much better than it is in their home country,” he adds.

Strumming a guitar inside his shipping container home, Dam, 30, is typical of those who oil the lower rungs of Thailand’s economy.

As a welder he earns 400 baht ($11) a day, almost three times the average daily wage in his native Laos.

And because his accommodation is already paid for by the construction company, most of that money goes home to his family of rice farmers.

“I do not really suffer here. I have fun in Bangkok… I just live my life freely,” he says.

To say Dam and his fellow construction workers have it easy would be an overstatement.

Their accommodation is spartan, not to mention sweltering in a country where even nighttime temperatures rarely dip below 30C (86F) for much of the year.

While the container homes boast electricity, they don’t have running water and bathing takes place communally, with thin sarongs to protect female modesty.

Each 12m-long container is divided into four sections, with some housing an entire family of four.

– Abuses commonplace –


But others have it much worse. Rights groups have long documented exploitative and dangerous conditions for Thailand’s migrant workers.

It is not uncommon to see migrants jammed into pick-up trucks being ferried across Thai towns, sleeping in makeshift huts and bathing their children by the roadside after a long day of work.

Max Tunon, a regional official at the International Labour Organization, says inspectors can only check on working conditions if it is included in an employee’s contract.

“Even if inspectors do gain access, they are limited to only giving advice on how to improve conditions, but cannot make orders on living conditions,” he adds.

Sexual harassment in communal bathing areas, he adds, is a “specific problem” the ILO is investigating.

Earlier this year the European Union threatened to blacklist Thailand’s fishing industry, partially because of conditions faced by migrant workers on board vessels.

The United States also placed the kingdom on the bottom tier of its human trafficking index for the second year running.

Those who blow the whistle are rarely greeted as heroes.

Thailand-based British rights activist Andy Hall is facing both civil and criminal defamation proceedings over a recent report he co-authored exposing rights abuses in the country’s lucrative fruit picking industry.

The cases are being brought by one of the exposed fruit companies as well as Thailand’s Attorney General.

As sun sets on the container village, the stony ground outside becomes an impromptu village square with groups grilling fish and playing volleyball.

Most of the workers will be up at 5.30 am the following day. And once the condo block is built, the container village will be moved to the next construction project.

Published on 25 October 2015

Thailand: World’s largest canned tuna company linked to slavery, environmental crimes, Asian Correspondent

Environmentally destructive, unregulated and guilty of shocking human rights abuses, the tuna industry is a dirty business. The biggest tuna company in the world, Thai Union Group, has become a target of a global campaign by environmental activist organization, Greenpeace, in the hope that exposure and pressure will result in some positive changes from the Thailand-based seafood firm.

Thai Union Group has processing plants in Southeast Asia, Europe, Africa and the United States. It encompasses several leading seafood companies under its brand umbrella, including Chicken of the Sea (USA); John West (UK) Petit Navire and Parmentier (France); Mareblu (Italy); as well as top Thai brands Sealect, Fisho and Bellotta.

Greenpeace has already had success pressuring companies in Australia and the UK to clean up their tuna supply chains and wants the world’s largest tuna firm to improve behavior in terms of overfishing, labor abuse, impact on local communities, destructive fishing practices, and using “transshipping” to hide illegal fishing practices.

Thai Union Group linked to slavery at sea

In July a New York Times exposé revealed how fishing boats that supplied catch to Thai Union Group-owned canneries used kidnapped and enslaved migrant workers, mainly from Cambodia and Myanmar (Burma).

Thai Union has come under increased scrutiny since the New York Times piece, as well as a lawsuit against Nestle. Though Thai Union wasn’t the company being sued, the case was predicated on Nestle’s purchasing of fish from a known user of slave labor (TUG) for its Fancy Feast cat food brand.

Here is an extract from the lawsuit (via Undercurrent News):

“Instead of true employment, men and boys are sold as slaves by brokers and smugglers to fishing captains in Thai ports in need of labor. Once sold, these men and boys… enter a modern form of indentured servitude where they are required to work to pay off the price the captains paid to purchase them.”

Not just tuna, not just people, but dogs and cats too

Greenpeace’s campaign against environmental and human rights abuses in the global tuna industry is named “Not just tuna”, in order to highlight that the issue is not simply one of ecological degradation due to overfishing, but also of health and human rights.

Furthermore, it is not just people who are consuming vast amounts of unethical tuna. Some of the US’s top pet food brands — including Meow Mix, Fancy Feast (Nestle) and Iams — have bought some 28 million pounds of seafood-based cat and dog food from Thai Union Group. The ships it contracts supply forage fish for pet food and agricultural feed for pigs, chickens and farmed fish in the United States.

The U.S. is the largest customer of Thai fish with a large and rapidly growing portion of it destined for the pet food industry. In fact, the average cat in the U.S. eats twice as much food as the average human — around 30 pounds per year.

Greenpeace demands real change, not just polished cans

While Thai Union has launched a shiny new PR campaign to improve its image, Greenpeace would like to see concrete changes in industry practices, particularly transparency in order that consumers can be aware of where their product is coming from and how it is sourced.

Thai Union Group’s British John West brand claims on its packaging that its tuna is 100 percent traceable, yet Greenpeace has revealed that, as of now, this is simply not true. Last month 14 brands of canned tuna on the Thai market failed Greenpeace’s tests for sustainability, traceability and equity.

By Graham Land
Published on 20 October 2015

Bank data show remittance flows rising, The Phnom Penh Post

Cross-border remittance transfers continue to rise despite slower growth in Asian economies as more Cambodians seek work abroad to support their families back home, an economist said yesterday, commenting on recent data.

Worker remittances, which comprise personal transfers by migrant workers to their households back home, doubled last year and continue to grow.

Cambodian migrant workers sent the equivalent of $363 million home in 2014, up from $167 million a year earlier, according to central bank figures. Worker remittances amounted to $110 million in the first quarter of 2015, putting the year on course to top $450 million.

The actual size of cross-border remittance flows is believed to be much higher as migrant workers – especially those working in neighbouring Thailand – often send back money through informal channels.

Economist Srey Chanthy said the rising value of remittance transactions reflects the fact that more Cambodians are seeking work abroad, while banks are keeping closer tabs on cross-border transactions.

“Increased remittances are due to the increased number of overseas workers and better reporting on their remittances,” he said.

Chanthy said that remittances, which account for about 2 per cent of GDP, are an important source of capital for Cambodian families that receive them and can be used on consumption – such as food, education, health and clothes – or investments.

“The spending contributes to current economic development, while investments contribute to future economic development,” he said.

More than 700,000 Cambodians – both documented and undocumented – work in Thailand, according to the Ministry of Labour. South Korea and Malaysia also have sizeable populations of migrant Cambodian workers.

Acleda Bank, an artery for Cambodian remittance transactions, has felt a surge in inbound money transfers, according to So Phonnary, the bank’s executive vice president.

“We’re seeing a trend of increased inbound transactions to Cambodia as more people work abroad and send money to their families,” she said.

According to the bank’s records, Acleda received total remittances of $130.3 million from South Korea, $89.9 million from Thailand and $8.7 million from Malaysia in the first eight months of the year.

By comparison, Acleda Bank received inbound remittances of $119.5 million from South Korea, $94.2 million from Thailand and $13.8 million from Malaysia during the whole of 2014.

In addition to these direct bank transfers, Acleda also handled inbound remittance payments sent via Western Union.

Lured abroad by the prospect of higher wages, Cambodian migrant workers say an ever-widening array of money transfer options help them to support their families back home.

Sim Sothea, who lives and works in South Korea, said he usually sends money back to his family whenever they run short.

“It depends on my family’s needs,” said Sothea. “I usually send them money once every two or three months, though some of my friends here send money home every day.”

By Sor Chandara
Published on 9 October 2015

New group formed to help migrant workers, The Phnom Penh Post

A group of Cambodians in Thailand have formed an association to provide legal aid to the country’s Cambodian factory workers, saying the workers risk abuse due to their lack of proper documentation and knowledge of labour laws.

The Cambodian Friendship Migrant Workers Association in Thailand, which is mostly composed of Cambodian factory supervisors and Cambodians who graduated from Thai universities, was created on June 28 and now has about 40 members, according to Som Serimony, one of its founders.

Serimony said most Cambodian migrant workers in Thailand face difficulties ranging from brokers cheating them after bringing them into the country to police arresting them due to their lack of papers.

“Our association has not yet registered to get a licence from Thai authorities, but we expect to ask for one next year,” he said.

The association is an initiative of the Community Legal Education Center (CLEC).

Even without a licence, “we work closely with local Thai authorities and the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security in Thailand”, said Dy Thehoya, head of the migrant labour program at CLEC.

The Ministry of Labour has estimated that about 700,000 Cambodian migrant workers, both documented and undocumented, currently work in Thailand.

Labour Ministry spokesman Heng Sour could not be reached for comment.

By The Phnom Penh Post

Published on 3 September 2015

Thailand: Migrant workers on trial accused of raping, killing British backpackers, CNN

The trial of two 22-year-old Burmese migrants, Zaw Lin and Wai Phyo, accused of the murder of two British tourists on a Thai resort island last year, opens Wednesday in Koh Samui amid accusations of evidence mishandling, witness intimidation and possible coerced confessions.

The bodies of two young Britons, Hannah Witheridge — who was also raped, according to police reports — and David Miller, were discovered early on September 15 on a beach on Koh Tao, a small island in the Gulf of Thailand. They were partially undressed and had sustained severe injuries to their heads.

The Burmese pair, who were working in the hospitality industry on the island, were arrested around two weeks after the crimes committed and originally confessed, only to later recant, saying that their admissions of guilt were made under duress.

Thai police say that forensic evidence, including DNA samples from cigarette butts found near the bodies, tie the men to the scene.

Police Commissioner Gen. Somyot Poompanmuang previously told CNN that DNA in semen taken from Witheridge matched samples taken from the two men.

“The DNA matching result is out already and they matched with DNA found on the female victim,” he said, adding that the men admitted to raping Witheridge.

Flawed investigation

The two suspects’ defense team says that the investigation has been flawed due to “alleged mishandling of forensic evidence, abuse of suspects and intimidation of witnesses, particularly migrant workers living on Koh Tao,” according to a statement released by the Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN), a rights group assisting the defense team.

The trial, which is due to take place over 18 days between July and September, will open with the judge’s decision to allow the defense to reexamine the evidence.

The defense alleges that forensic crime scene evidence — including DNA samples from semen found on the body of Witheridge — was mishandled by the Thai Royal Police investigators.

“We’re confident that the request will be allowed as it is key to a fair trial,” Andy Hall, International Affairs Adviser for MWRN.

“(The forensic evidence) is the main evidence for the trial. We haven’t seen any evidence (besides the disputed DNA samples) to link them to any of the crimes.”

Nakhon Chompuchat, the lead lawyer for the two suspects told CNN the defense would not ask for a postponement in the event that the court granted a re-examination of the evidence. He also said that if the request was not granted he would resubmit it.

Accusations of coercion

In October, the defendants told Aung Myo Thant, a lawyer attached to the Myanmar embassy, that they only admitted the crime after being beaten by the police and threatened with electrocution.

“They said they didn’t do it, that the Thai police (along with their Myanmar-Thai translator) beat them until they confessed to something they didn’t do,” Aung told the Bangkok Post at the time.

“They’re pleading with the Myanmar government to look into the case and find out the truth. They were a really pitiful sight. Their bodies had all sorts of bruises. I have already reported all that I have seen… to my government.”

At the time, the national police chief denied the police had extracted the confessions through the use of torture.

Thai Department of Special Investigation Deputy Director General Wannapong Kotcharat declined to speak to CNN about the case.

Kosolwat Intuchanyong, Deputy Spokesman to the Office of the Attorney General, said his office had received complaints from the victims’ families and defense team and had instructed the regional office of the Attorney General to conduct further interviews that were incorporated into the case, but had ultimately decided that the Attorney General had enough evidence to proceed with the trial.

Alleged bias against migrants

A perceived judicial bias against migrant workers in Thailand has long been noted by rights agencies.

“It’s critical that the two accused migrant workers get a free and fair trial that fully accords with international fair trial standards,” Phil Robertson, the Deputy Director of the Asia Division of Human Rights Watch told CNN.

“Migrant workers have hardly ever been treated well by the Thai police, and not always been dealt with fairly by the Thai criminal justice system, so in migrant communities in Thailand there are ample suspicions about this case.”

Hall agrees that migrants in Thailand “face severe challenges in the criminal justice system,” and that this case provides “clear evidence of that.”

However, despite this historical disadvantage, the defense team hopes the international attention the case has received will ensure the trial will be fair and transparent.

“We’re confident that the trial will be fair because of the international focus. (The Thai legal system) is challenged on many fronts but this can be a showcase for Thai justice,” Hall said.

“Our task is to ensure that there is a fair trial where both sides have access to all the evidence.”

CNN’s Kocha Olarn in Bangkok contributed to this report.

By Euan McKirdy

Published on 7 July 2015

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