Category Archives: Other Migration Issues in Mekong

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

Minimum wage set

Vitriol rang from all sides yesterday following a government decision to raise the monthly minimum wage in the garment sector to $128, with labour unions declaring it too little and employer representatives claiming such a large raise could close factories.

The Ministry of Labour’s Labour Advisory Committee (LAC) held a vote yesterday morning and emerged with a figure of $123 as next year’s industrial floor salary – up from the current $100.

A meeting with Prime Minister Hun Sen directly after the vote led Labour Minister Ith Sam Heng to raise that figure by an additional $5, to $128, a Labour Ministry statement reads.

Union leaders who battled for $140 remained unsure of whether their members would accept the amount, or if they would be prompted to launch a campaign against the government-mandated figure.

Labour rights advocates, meanwhile, expressed concerns that the move could provoke strikes and cause international brands to pull out of Cambodia.

“I hope that unions will understand, because they joined the discussion, that we cannot meet their demand,” said Sam Heng.

He discouraged demonstrations akin to those after last year’s minimum wage decision, which resulted in arrests, violence and at least five deaths.

“Don’t use demonstrations to push for your demands,” Heng said.

Including transportation, seniority and other bonuses, workers will be able to earn a total monthly salary of between $147 and $156 a month next year, a Labour Ministry statement reads.

Unions were clear on their minimum financial needs, said Ath Thorn, president of the Coalition of Cambodian Apparel Workers’ Democratic Union (C.CAWDU) and one of two people who voted for a $140 wage at the LAC meeting.

C.CAWDU members will meet on Sunday to discuss their next course of action. “Until [we receive] $140, I’m not satisfied,” Thorn said. “We will discuss with my members; if my members want to campaign [against the wage], we will.”

Disappointment among unions spread beyond independents to government-leaning unions as well.

The LAC’s vote for $123 was unacceptable, said Chuon Mom Thol, president of Cambodia Union Federation (CUF). But even though the final amount is less than unions’ collective demand, the subsequent $5 addition cushioned the blow, he added.

“Now we’ve got $8 above the poverty line, and next year, there will be another negotiation,” Mom Thol said, referring to the $120 poverty line calculated by the International Labour Organization. Based on information “received from the ground, [CUF] rank-and-file members accept” the $128 wage, he added.

But from the point of view of Cambodia’s factory owners, the hike will prove disastrous.

The 28 per cent increase will bankrupt some employers, said Nang Sothy of the Garment Manufacturers Association in Cambodia (GMAC).

Between “30 and 50 factories” will close, losing jobs for about 50,000 workers, she said, though employers will still abide by the government’s new wage requirement.

Community Legal Education Center consultant Joel Preston scoffed at GMAC’s “scare tactics” which, he said, lacked any evidence. Preston noted consistent growth in Cambodia’s largest export business, despite GMAC’s persistent assertions that wage increases will drive the industry out of the country. Several brands that buy from Cambodia, H&M among them, have already made public commitments to financially facilitate salary hikes.

What the government and brands should worry about, he continued, is possible unrest resulting from the Labour Ministry’s decision yesterday.

“The government is walking a fine line,” Preston said. “I think there’s a real possibility that we could see a repeat of last year; I don’t think the government or the brands can afford that.”

Even without the violence Cambodia experienced in January, brands could fear the worst-case scenario and leave the country proactively, said Dave Welsh, country director for labour rights group Solidarity Center.

“You may see brand pullout based on the fear of what they anticipate,” Welsh said.

Given that brands had publicly committed to paying higher prices to support a living wage, Welsh lamented the LAC’s squandering of a perfect chance to raise wages to a point that would have satisfied workers across the board.

“We had this historic opportunity,” Welsh said.

By: Sean Teehan and Mom Kunthear, the Phnompenh Post

MOL: Laos to provide nationality identifying team

BANGKOK, 13 November 2014 (NNT) – The Ministry of Labour (MOL) has revealed that Thailand and Laos discussed mutual cooperation on the identification process of laborers’ nationality and employment, while seeking to update the MOU every five years.

According to the Minister of Labour Gen. Surasak Kanchanarat, the Minister and Laos Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary to Thailand have discussed the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) on the employment and nationality identification today.

He said that both sides agreed to update the content of the MOU once every five years, to keep the MOU up to date. Officials from both countries will be working together to update this MOU with the deadline in October 2015, in time with the opening of the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC).

The Laos Ambassador Extraordinary and Plenipotentiary Ly Bounkham said that Lao People’s Democratic Republic will be sending their officers to work with Thai officers to help identify the nationality of Laos workers in Thailand as soon as possible.

The nationality identification team will start from provinces with a larger population of Laos workers, then move towards provinces with less Laos workers. However, the Laos Ambassador is concerned that the entire process might be completed by 31 March 2015.

Minister of Labour has stressed that the Ministry is willing to provide assistance. There will be further discussions should the identification process is not completed within the time frame.

Currently, there are 212,562 registered Laos workers with 9,122 in Thailand as aides or followers. The cost for the nationality identification is 3,000 baht per person for both Thai and Laos authorities.

By: National News Bureau of Thailand

Vietnam approves minimum-wage hike of 15 percent in 2015

Prime Minister Nguyen Tan Dung has given the go-ahead to the increase in Vietnam’s minimum monthly salary by between VND250,000-VND400,000 (US$12-$19) starting next year.
Under a government decree that takes effect January 1, 2015, Vietnam will raise the wage floor to VND2.15 million–VND3.1 million ($101.4-$146.2), depending on the location. In August, the National Wage Council, which advises the government on wage policies, proposed that the minimum wages be raised to VND2.42 million-VND3.1million.
Accordingly, in Region I, including urban Hanoi, Hai Phong, Ho Chi Minh City, the minimum wage will be VND3.1 million, or VND400,000 higher than the current threshold.
VND400,000 is the maximum possible increase, exceeding last year’s highest recommended increase of VND350,000, according to labor officials.
In Region Two, including rural Ha Noi, HCMC, Hai Phong plus the capital cities of Hai Duong, Hung Yen, Bac Ninh, Thai Nguyen, Nha Trang, Can Tho and Rach Gia, the minimum wage will be VND2.75 million.
In Region Three, which entails capital cities and the main districts in the provinces of Hai Duong, Vinh Phuc, Phu Tho, Bac Ninh, Nam Dinh, Phu Yen, Dong Nai and Tien Giang, Ben Tre, the monthly salary will be VND2.4 million.
In Region Four, the least developed areas in Vietnam, the basis salary will be VND2.15 million.
Starting early this year, the minimum wage reached between VND1.9-2.7 million (US$90-128) a month. The variance was determined by the cost of living in a given worker’s location.
Vietnam’s per capita GDP climbed to US$1,890 last year, up 8 percent from 2012, according to the World Bank.
According to a recent survey by the Vietnam Worker and Trade Unions Institute, actual minimum wages range between VND2.5-VND4 million a month, depending on location.
However, even that salary only covers 69-77 percent of a Vietnamese person’s basic living costs, according to the survey, which polled 1,500 workers in 12 cities and provinces during the first half of this year.
Up to 13 percent of workers said their salaries do not cover their basic living costs, 25 percent said they had to spend carefully and 50 percent said their salary only affords the most basic standard of living.
Vietnam’s economy, which recorded growth of 5.42 percent last year, is expected to expand 5.8 percent in 2014, in line with a government target. The Southeast Asian country is expected to keep annual inflation at a rate below 5 percent, or about 2 percentage points below a government target.
Both foreign and local companies often lament that minimum wage increases will hit their operations. They warn any further wage hikes will cause grave consequences on Vietnam’s competitiveness in the near term, adding it needs to be considered “very carefully”.
Analysts acknowledge that Vietnam’s abundance of cheap labor has played an increasingly pivotal role in wooing foreign firms looking to set up overseas manufacturing operations in a country with a population of 90 million. This edge appears to be working well in the context of rising labor costs in China and political mayhem in Thailand.
But the analysts also say the bottom line is that competing in terms of low wages is a risky business and should only be considered an edge in the short-term for a developing country like Vietnam. The biggest challenge for the country is to ensure that the quality of its labor force improves steadily, they say.
“In the short-run, foreign direct investment may help create new jobs and attract redundant workers from rural areas. In the longer-run, however, low wages in industry may contribute to increased relative poverty,” said Pietro Masina, an associate professor of economics at the University of Naples “L’Orientale” in Italy.
By: Thanh Nien News

The case for including migration in the post-2015 agenda

BANGKOK, 11 November 2014 (IRIN) – As the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) expire at the end of 2015, campaigners are calling for the inclusion of migrant worker protections in the post-2015 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), noting that migrants contribute billions to reducing poverty – often at great cost to their personal safety and well-being.

The world’s estimated 232 million international migrants (2013 UN estimate) generated some US$400 billion in remittances for their families and communities back home in 2013, three times more than total overseas development assistance in the same year, according to the World Bank.

For the 10-15 percent of these migrants that the International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates are undocumented, the human cost of their contributions to their home countries’ economies is often high, sometimes even fatal.

IOM estimates 40,000 migrants – almost all undocumented, including asylum-seekers – have died en route to a destination country since 2000.

An unknown number also lose their lives post-arrival in host countries as a result of unsafe working conditions.

But addressing these risks is politically sensitive, say activists, due to host countries’ fears about creating pull factors for migrants. Despite migrants’ significant contribution to national incomes, they are easy scapegoats for already overburdened health and education systems.

“Including migration in the SDGs would be a bold act,” said Kathleen Newland, co-founder of US-based NGO Migration Policy Institute (MPI). “The causes of migration and local costs of globalization are difficult to see, but people can see immigration,” she added, explaining that more awareness and outreach is needed at the national level to ease popular insecurity about all groups of migrant workers.

The working group on migration for the Association of Southeast Asian Nations(ASEAN) spent five years discussing how to implement the 2007 ASEAN Declaration on the Protection of Migrants. In 2012, the group dissolved without reaching an agreement.

Advocates hope that where regional organizations have fallen short in addressing protection of migrant rights, the SDGs can help make migration less deadly by encouraging states and international organizations to invest more resources.

Benefits of remittances 

The socio-economic and development benefits of remittances are clear: for every 10 percent of a population that migrates to work in a higher income country, there is a 1.9 percent reduction in poverty in the country of origin, the World Bank calculates.

In Latin America, a 1 percent increase in remittances reduced infant mortality rates by 1.2 deaths per 1,000 babies, noted a 2013 report by Peter Sutherland, the UN Special Representative on international migration.

Households are more likely to spend remittances on health and education than other types of additional income, according to MPI.

“If reduction of poverty, increased rates of education, and better health outcomes are markers of development, strong evidence exists that remittances make a major contribution,” noted MPI in a 2013 policy brief.

So major that in Thailand after the military seized power in June 2014 and cracked down on the country’s undocumented foreign workers, leading to the deportation of tens of thousands, it was not long before they returned, said Reiko Harima, regional coordinator for the Secretariat of the Mekong Migration Network (MMN), a Bangkok-based umbrella advocacy group for Southeast Asian migrants.

“Even one week without wages is too long for them,” she explained.

Harima estimates over one million of Thailand’s migrants are undocumented.

Construction, fishing, and farming industries rely on the country’s 2.2 million migrants, according to the Federation of Thai Industries, and the junta quickly changed tack. They ceased arrests and, instead, extended migrants’ registration to enable them to stay legally.

 

“Families take a huge gamble and go into debt to pay [for family members to migrate]. There is a lot of pressure on migration to be ‘successful’,” said Richard Mallett, an Overseas Development Institute (ODI) research fellow and co-author of a 2014 report on migration from Nepal.

Success is often measured in remittances, while the human costs are overlooked. The lack of documentation often means that migrants cannot access lifesaving health care and fear protesting unsafe, even fatal, working conditions.

Labour unions, NGOs, and human rights activists have documented employers in the Gulf states keeping migrants’ passports, essentially rendering them indentured until debts for travel to the host country are repaid.

The UN special rapporteur on migrants, Francois Crépeau, in a statement to the UN General Assembly on 24 October, called on states to minimize the risks of abuse and urged migrants’ inclusion in the SDGs.

Wish list 

One problem, according to MMN, is that policies fail to reflect the long-term reality of migration by trying to restrict migrants’ time in a host country.

For example, a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the Myanmar government and Thailand requires Thailand’s estimated 140,000 Burmese migrants (who fuel the shrimp and construction industries) to leave after four years and return to Myanmar for three years before they can re-apply.

“It wrongly assumes migration is temporary, when the reality is that migrants who learn skills to work in an industry, and their employers, want them to stay,” said Harima.

“The legal migration channel needs to be made cheaper, and more accessible for the workers who want to go abroad, while recruitment agencies are regulated properly,” she added.

In the current draft of the SDGs, the need for safe and orderly migration is stressed and protecting the rights and safe working conditions of all migrants, including migrant workers, is included under Goal 8.

“There is still a lot of horse trading to be done,” said Newland, explaining that the Open Working Group has submitted its recommendations to the panel and now the decision is in the court of states. “The risk is that any inclusion of migration in the SDGs will have to be reduced to the lowest common denominator to gain approval,” she said.

By: IRIN

Back to Top