Category Archives: Safe Migration
BANGKOK — Thai police have rescued hundreds of Rohingya Muslims from a remote camp in a raid prompted by a Reuters investigation into human trafficking, police officials said on Monday.
Police detained 531 men, women and children in Sunday’s raid at a camp near the town of Sadao in the southern province of Songkhla, on a well-established route for human smugglers near Thailand’s border with Malaysia. It was the first raid on illegal Rohingya smuggling camps since Jan. 9, 2013.
The police said they were following up on a Dec. 5 Reuters report that Rohingya were held hostage in camps hidden near the border with Malaysia until relatives pay ransoms to release them. Some were beaten and killed.
The Rohingya are mostly stateless Muslims from Burma. Deadly clashes between Rohingya and ethnic Arakanese Buddhists erupted in Buddhist-majority Burma last year, making 140,000 people homeless, most of them Rohingya.
Since then, tens of thousands of Rohingya have fled from Burma by boat and many arrive off southwest Thailand.
The United Nations and the United States called for an investigation into the Reuters report, based on a two months of research in three countries, that revealed a clandestine policy to remove Rohingya refugees from Thai immigration detention centers and deliver them to human traffickers waiting at sea.
“After Reuters gave us information, we ordered an investigation into the camps,” said Chatchawan Suksomjit, deputy national police chief. He said they captured three suspected ringleaders at the camp, all of them Thai males.
Reuters gave the Thai authorities coordinates to one camp near Sadao which was empty by the time they arrived, but police found another camp nearby.
“From the Reuters report, we received a clue that it was in Kao Roop Chang [village]. But the camp was already moved from there when we found it. We found only an empty camp there. So we investigated more until we found the new camp,” said Colonel Kan Tammakasem, superintendent of immigration in Songkhla.
The plight of the Rohingya illustrates the limits to Burma’s wave of democratic reforms since military rule ended in March 2011. Inside Burma, they face apartheid-like conditions and, according to the United Nations, many forms of “persecution, discrimination and exploitation.”
Police are trying to identify the origins of those detained after the raid, not all of whom were Rohingya, said Chatchawan. “We are interviewing all of them to see if they are victims of human trafficking,” he said.
They are being kept at an immigration detention center in Songkhla.
“We have to interview them and proceed according to Thai immigration laws,” he said. “It will depend on whether they want to go back. If they are willing we will send them back as we have done before.”
Last year, Thailand implemented a secretive policy to deport the Rohingya.
These deportations delivered many Rohingya back into the hands of smuggling networks and human traffickers, who in some cases ferried them back to Thailand’s secret border camps, reported Reuters.
The raid comes as the US State Department is finalizing its research for its next Trafficking In Persons (TIP) report, due in June, which ranks countries on their counter-trafficking performance.
Thailand is Southeast Asia’s second-biggest economy and a close US ally, but has a poor record in fighting trafficking and faces a possible downgrade to the report’s lowest rank, putting it at risk of US sanctions and potentially placing it on a par with North Korea and Iran.
Nine people were arrested in Thailand in relation to Rohingya smuggling in 2013, including two government officials, according to police data, but none of the arrests has led to convictions.
By Amy Sawitta Lefevre and Andrew R. C. Marshall, Reuters
Published on 27 January 2014
PHNOM PENH, Jan 24 2014 (IPS) – Many Cambodian women arrive in South Korea or China for marriage, only to find themselves being chosen as mistresses, say labour rights activists. While young Cambodian men, who travel to Thailand to work on fishing boats, often fall prey to drug abuse.
Loss of land, debt, poor pay and high prices of petrol and electricity are pushing youths from poverty-stricken Cambodia to foreign lands – sometimes with disastrous consequences.
Miserable working conditions in the garment sector have only worsened the labour trafficking scenario.
Tola Moeun, head of the Community Legal Education Centre (CLEC), said rural farmers comprise 80 percent of Cambodia’s population, but they are increasingly in debt due to high-interest loans. As a result, youth leave home in search of work.
He also cited the example of Cambodia’s garment industry, saying the prospect of being a garment worker is so terrible that often women will do anything to escape this fate.
“Women garment workers often choose to go to South Korea to escape the situation,” Tola told IPS.
CLEC has received several calls from families whose daughters were experiencing troubled “marriages” to Chinese and South Korean men that turned out to be sham marriages.
Tola said families accept money from marriage brokers without understanding the situation. The truth emerges when the women arrive in South Korea, only to be lined up in a room for the “husband” to choose from.
“I went to South Korea in 2011. It was explained to me that South Korean wives are not worried about sex workers because the husband takes a mistress. So he chooses a Cambodian girl to ‘marry’,” he said.
“In China, there is a shortage of women in the countryside. The man wants a wife to work for him without pay, so she becomes not only a labour slave but also a sex slave,” Tola said.
He concedes, however, that all international marriages are not shams.
A 24-year-old woman in Phnom Penh told IPS she knew of many successful relationships through marriage brokers. But she contacted IPS when a 30-year-old woman was being aggressively pursued by a marriage broker after she changed her mind about an offer. The broker backed off when CLEC was mentioned.
“A lot of Cambodian girls marry South Korean men. These are real relationships. Really poor people do this. Sometimes the girls come back and are able to build a house for the family and improve their lives.”
Young Cambodian men travel to Thailand to work in the construction sector, on fishing boats or in fish processing factories. This takes place either formally, using a broker for visas, or illegally.
“In case of illegal offers, the recruiter will call and say, ‘Do you want a job?’ The person will then cross the border at night, not using checkpoints, hiding in the back of a truck, lying head to toe with other people and covered with supplies that are being transported,” said Tola.
Brahm Press of the Raks Thai Foundation, an organisation that assists migrant workers, said most problems occur due to work contracts at the Cambodian end.
“As of July 2013, around 8,000 Cambodians were registered in Bangkok – 5,000 men and the rest women – and they were probably all in construction. I have heard that after deductions for recruitment agencies and housing, they come away with less than the 300 baht [10 dollars] a day minimum wage,” Press told IPS.
He said problems usually occur due to misunderstandings about work arrangements and fees or when passports are withheld to ensure that workers pay their recruitment debt.
Recently 13 young Cambodians – 11 men and two women aged between 15 and 23 – entered Thailand with the help of brokers to whom they paid 500 dollars each, said Si Ngoun, the father of one of the youths.
“They were promised a good job with a good salary of 300 baht per day.”
For two months they worked at a rubber band factory, a metal smith factory and, lastly, in the construction sector, which is where their troubles began.
“We were paid very little, about 120 baht [four dollars] per day. We didn’t want to work any more because we were too hungry,” 20-year-old Si Pesith, one of the workers, told IPS.
Tola said the workers asked for food and protested but the employer had them jailed as illegal workers. Usually detention lasts six to nine months, but Cambodian Ambassador You Ay intervened and they were sent home within a week.
IPS spoke with Pesith after he was repatriated. “If we compare work in Thailand with that in Cambodia, it is not much different,” he said.
Thai fishing boats have been flagged by the U.S. State Department Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Report as potential labour trafficking scams for Cambodian migrants.
Press said conditions on fishing boats are notoriously difficult to monitor. Work there has been linked to drug use as labourers try to get through work shifts that can last up to 20 hours.
“When migrants, first Burmese and then Cambodians, were prominently replacing Thais on the boats, amphetamines were becoming the rage,” he said.
“First there was Ya-Ma (horse drug), which was milder than the current Ya-Ba, but no less addictive. During the last decade there were anecdotal reports, first of migrants on fishing boats voluntarily taking Ya-Ma, then stories of captains putting Ya-Ba in the drinking water.” Press, however, said such stories had become less frequent.
Eliot Albers, executive director of the International Network of People who Use Drugs (INPUD), said criminalisation of drug use makes it harder to assist users, especially migrants.
“Poverty and labour abuse worsen people’s relationship with drugs. They suffer from labour abuse and drugs help them get through the day,” Albers told IPS.
Migrant workers lack union representation, making them especially vulnerable to abuse. If they are formal workers, the process of migration is expensive (up to 700 dollars each), requiring a recruiter and debt. If they are informal, it is cheaper. But they risk detention and deportation by Thai police if they complain about the working conditions.
Despite these problems, repatriated workers often leave Cambodia again.
By Michelle Tolson, Inter Press Service
Published on 24 January 2o14
Thai police find 13 bodies believed to be illegal Myanmar migrants from boat lost at sea, Washington Post
BANGKOK — Thai police said Sunday that the bodies of 13 people believed to be migrants from Myanmar seeking work have been found off southern Thailand’s Andaman Sea coast.
Lt. Col. Nirat Chuayjit said that marine police in Ranong province, 580 kilometers (360 miles) south of Bangkok, had recovered the bodies of 12 men and one woman, whom they believe were on a boat that broke up in bad weather Wednesday as they sought to travel illegally to Thailand.
Thailand hosts hundreds of thousands of migrants from neighboring Myanmar who are willing to take menial jobs at low pay. They can register to work legally under strict conditions, but many also labor illegally.
Nirat said it was unknown how many people from the boat might be missing or survived, but that such boats normally carry about 30 people. Survivors would be unlikely to contact Thai authorities for fear of the legal consequences of trying to enter the country illegally, he said.
It is common for migrant workers to try to sneak into Thailand during the rainy season, because the marine police cannot conduct regular patrols in stormy weather, Nirat said.
By Associated Press
Published on 13 October 2013
Several hundred Burmese migrant workers at a shrimp factory in Thailand are protesting what they say is exploitation by the owner of the factory, Thai firm CPS.
The roughly 500 workers at the factory in Thailand’s easternmost province of Rayong said they were being exploited by dodgy agents who found them jobs in Thailand after they left Burma under a bilateral agreement between the two countries.
“We have to pay 2,000 to 2,500 baht for rent, but we were promised free accommodation. Plus we have to pay for transport to work,” one of the protesting workers told The Irrawaddy in a phone interview on Thursday.
The workers, who are mostly from Pegu, Irrawaddy and Sagaing Divisions, claim since they arrived in Rayong their wages have been cut and passports and work permits confiscated by the agent.
Kyaw Kyaw borrowed money from a loan shark in his village to pay the agent. Now, due to the agent’s behavior, he says he cannot send any money home to his family to pay back the loan.
He came to Thailand last year using the Burmese labor agency Yewunnaka, which finds Burmese migrant workers jobs in Thailand.
“I had to pay 450,000 kyat ($520) in advance for the transportation and services fee before leaving my home.” recalled Kyaw Kyaw, who comes from Yinmarpin Township in Monywa, Sagaing Division.
He says he spent three months waiting in the border town of Myawaddy before the agency found him a job and he crossed into Thailand near Mae Sot, in Tak Province.
“That cost me extra,” he said, adding that the company covered none of his expenses during his trip.
“I have been working here for three months and earn about 300 baht a day, but I didn’t save anything yet,” Soe Min Pai, a worker from Pegu, told The Irrawaddy.
About 60 of the workers had to wait like Kyaw Kyaw in Myawaddy after paying the hefty advance fee.
Upon arrival, the workers say, they had to work without pay for ten days, and that even now they do not receive their full wages.
They have been told by the company they will get their passports and work permits back after two years.
But their protests have won them some small victories.
“As we have protested for a couple of days, the Thai agent-Hta Nah Wat-gave the passports to those workers who made full payments,” Kyaw Kyaw said. In order to get the documents back, the workers must pay 2,000 baht a month for six months to the agent.
But Maung Win, another worker from Monywa, said it took a year for the company to give him back his documents.
The denial of workers’ rights to Burmese migrants is not uncommon in Thailand.
By Nyein Nyein
Published on 28 March 2013
Asean urged to exchange health records of all migrant workers
Health advocates have urged Asean governments to take better care of migrant workers, including those with HIV/Aids, to prevent diseases from spreading.
The warning follows concerns about health conditions for the workers, most of whom do not have access to health services or are reluctant to seek them out.
Many are illegal workers and they encounter problems communicating with health officials, a recent workshop on migrant labourers’ reproductive health in Phnom Penh was told.
Sunee Talawat, a Thai activist who monitors workers living with HIV/Aids in Southeast Asia, said many Aids-infected migrant workers stop taking their anti-viral drugs after they run out.
Inconsistent treatment results in increased drug resistance, requiring stronger and more expensive drugs.
Ms Sunee said there should be inter-government help to ensure treatment records of workers in their native country can be referenced.
This would ensure that anti-viral drug treatment can continue when they migrate to another country.
She said the exchange of information among members of Asean is crucial as the grouping moves close to the free mobility of workers in 2015.
It should start with professionals in such areas as medicine, nursing and engineering.
Ms Sunee said better health policies would help contain the spread of cross-border diseases.
Migrant workers who illegally enter another country tend to face more health risks because they do not dare to identify themselves and seek mainstream health treatment when they fall ill for fear of being sent home, said Rachael McGuin, of the Mekong Migration Network.
By The Bangkok Post
Published on 7 October 2012