Category Archives: Safe Migration

Despite crackdown, people-smuggling across Thai-Myanmar border has risen

FILEPHOTO: lllegal migrants from Myanmar sit on a bus as they travel to a district court at Tha Sala police station, in Nakorn Si Thammarat province, Thailand, May 6, 2017. REUTERS/Surapan Boonthanom/File Photo

 

People smuggling across the border from Myanmar to Thailand is on the rise despite a crackdown by authorities in both countries that has made it more expensive and dangerous, Thai immigration police say.

Thailand said earlier this year that it hoped its efforts against smuggling would be recognized by the United States in its annual Trafficking in Persons report expected next month.

But while fewer migrants appear to be braving hazardous journeys by sea, figures from immigration police on the land border show an increase in people smuggled from Myanmar since 2014, when Thailand’s military government seized power and vowed to crack down on human smuggling and trafficking rings.

“We’ve applied a lot of pressure so they have to find a new way to come,” Sompong Saimonka, deputy superintendent of Border Immigration Police in Thailand’s western Tak province, the main land gateway from Myanmar, told Reuters. “We can’t keep tabs on it all.”

While Myanmar’s economy has been booming – the World Bank forecasts annual growth will average 7.1 percent over the next three years – wages remain among the lowest in the region.

Migrants from Myanmar often do work Thais shun in sectors such as construction, agriculture and fishing, forming the backbone of Southeast Asia’s second largest economy.

The two countries signed an agreement last year to allow migrants from Myanmar to legally work in Thailand. But many are unwilling to wait up to six months for identity documents and take their chance with the smugglers instead.

CRACKDOWN ON SMUGGLERS

Thailand’s crackdown on human smuggling and trafficking syndicates reverberated around the region in 2015 and drew global attention to the abuses suffered by some of those seeking a better life.

Boatloads of migrants, many of them Rohingya Muslims escaping persecution in Myanmar’s Rakhine state, were turned away by regional governments from Bangladesh to Malaysia after being abandoned at sea by smugglers.

Dozens of bodies of suspected migrants were discovered in jungle camps along the Thai-Malaysian border.

Thai police say the focus on sea routes to Thailand and Malaysia has prompted smugglers to resume overland trails where it is easier to avoid checkpoints.

Data from immigration police at Mae Sot, the main entry point into western Thailand, shows the number of people smuggled from Myanmar rose from 20,323 in 2014 to 24,962 in 2016.

Those were just the recorded cases, so the increase could partly be due to greater enforcement efforts. Few of those recently smuggled were Rohingya, police in Mae Sot said.

“At present Thailand is very conscious about human rights when it comes to laborers and we have opened for laborers from Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar to come and work in Thailand,” government spokesman Sansern Kaewkamnerd.

“Thailand needs overseas labor. We just ask that it is correct.”

Overall figures on illegal entry into Thailand were not available.

‘ANYONE CAN BE A BROKER’

The 2015 crackdown led to the trial of some alleged human traffickers.

But police in Mae Sot say the network of people willing to act as brokers is wider than previously thought.

“Anyone can be a broker. The problem is more widespread than we think. A Burmese factor worker in Mae Sot with a mobile phone can be a broker,” said a former border police officer based in Mae Sot, who declined to be named because he said he feared for his safety.

Last year, in its closely watched report that ranks countries based on anti-trafficking efforts, the U.S. State Department upgraded Thailand’s status a notch to its Tier 2 “Watch List”. Thailand had been downgraded to Tier 3, the lowest level that could trigger sanctions, after the 2014 coup.

The report, which usually comes out in June, matters to Thailand’s junta as it tries to fully normalize relations with Washington and to show it is tackling tough issues better than previous civilian administrations.

The Thai-Myanmar border in Tak province is approximately 500 km (300 miles) long, and includes the 327 km Moie River. During the dry season, which typically begins in March and ends in May, parts of the river are low enough to cross by foot.

Since 2015, many brokers won’t risk transporting migrants in large groups, said the former border police officer. Checkpoints have become more stringent, prompting smugglers to charge more.

Migrants typically pay up to 15,000 Thai baht ($430) to be smuggled from the border area to Bangkok and other cities and towns in Thailand.

“Supply has gone down but demand for workers is still there so the fee for smugglers has gone up,” Yunus, a Myanmar Muslim broker in Thailand, told Reuters in a telephone interview.

 

Reporting by Amy Sawitta Lefevre; Editing by Alex Richardson, Reuters

Published on: 11 May 2017

 

Canny Cambodians get free rides home (Thailand)

Returnees include workers with and without legal documents. (Supplied photo via the Khmer Times)

PHNOM PENH – The number of “undocumented” Cambodian workers being deported from Thailand through border checkpoints has doubled due to the approaching Khmer New Year, an official said Tuesday.

But many were actually legal workers taking advantage of the free transport provided for deportees.

Sem Makara, the deputy chief of the border police station at Poipet, said there was no crackdown at the moment on undocumented Cambodian workers in Thailand, the Khmer Times reported.

“However, for a few days we have seen more than the normal number of migrant workers being deported back to Cambodia. It’s due to the coming Khmer New Year,” he said.

Between 500 and 600 Cambodian workers were reportedly sent back over the previous three days, Mr Makara said. On average, 100 to 200 were deported each day for not having the proper documents to work and stay, he said.

He said those being deported home were both illegal and legal workers.

“Legal workers sometimes hide their passports or travel documents from Thai authorities so they are sent back home immediately and get transport free of charge.”

Almost a half the deportees were actually legal workers. “They are straight away sent home without any further delay,” Mr Makara said.

Earlier this year, Cambodia set out ways that thousands of undocumented workers in Thailand can get legal status through the embassy there to find work or stay in a job.

For many Cambodians it ends a grey area in which they were issued with what are known as pink cards by the Thais. The cards give them migrant worker status, but do not allow them to get jobs legally.

Cambodian deportees at the border. (Supplied photo via the Khmer Times)

 

By: Khmer Times, Bangkok Post

Published on: 5 April 2017

Migrant workers heading home for water festival

Myanmar workers arrive at Mae Sot border checkpoint early in the morning, preparing to cross the border to return home. (Bangkok Post photo)

 

Workers from neighbouring countries began an exodus home for the lunar new year festival on Wednesday, happy the cabinet had exempted them from exit and re-entry fees until April 30.

Labour Minister Sirichai Distakul said the water festival, celebrated as Songkran in Thailand, was a cultural event common to other Asean member countries, particularly Cambodia, Myanmar and Laos.

So the government had decided to allow migrant workers to go home for the occasion without the burden of having to pay extra fees, beginning April 5.

They were required to return and report to work by April 30 or they would lose their work permits. Last year, about 8,000 Cambodians were stranded at border checkpoints becaused they returned after the deadline, he said.

Waranon Pitiwan, director-general of the Employment Department, said there are two categories of workers.

In the first category are workers holding pink cards issued for non-Thai nationals and family members aged below 18 years. The cards expire on either Nov 30 or March 31 next year. They must return by April 30  or they would not be allowed to re-enter the country.

They must obtain a letter of permission to go home for the festival from an Employment Department office in the province where they work. They must show the letter to immigration officials and be stamped out and back in at the border.  They must return via their point of departure.

In the second category are workers holding a certificate of identity (CI) or a passport.  They are not required to apply for the letter of permission from the Employment Department.  They can show only their CI or passport to immigration officials. If they want to return after April 30, they must apply for re-entry and pay a 1,000 baht fee before leaving the country, otherwise they would not be allowed to re-enter.

Workers in both categories are exempted from departure and re-entry fees  for the period April 5 – 30.

Mr Waranon said during this period there will be no registration of migrant workers who entered the country illegally.  All workers allowed dispensation to go home for the festival must have been properly registered and have documents issued by the Labour Department.

In Tak province, Myanmar workers flocked to the immigration office in Mae Sot to get their documents stamped before going home across the Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge on Wednesday morning.

Pol Col Somchai Detphae, the Mae Sot immigration chief, said all 16 channels were opened to expedite the process.

Many vehicles were seen on the other side of the bridge, waiting to take returning workers to their hometowns.

Maung Mo, 28, from Pa-an in Myanmar, who works at an instant noodle factory in Nakhon Pathom, said he was glad the government had waived the fees, which would save him money.  He intended to return to work on time after the water festival.

 

By: Penchan Charoensuthipan, Bangkok Post

Published on: 6 April 2017

Thai court awards K100 million to sacked Myanmar workers

Sixty-five Myanmar workers, who were sacked by a Thai factory in Bangkok, have been awarded more than K100 million (Thai baht 2,751,000) in compensation, according to the Thai based Aid Alliance Committee (AAC).

Workers who sued the factory owners after being sacked and brought the matter to court four months ago were paid the compensation on March 31. Photo – Supplied

AAC member Ko Ye Min told The Myanmar Times yesterday that the workers who demanded for fair and equitable compensation and pressed for their rights were compensated by the pet food company that belongs to the Bangkok-based PCG Group.

“Forty-three workers who did not demand for compensation from the factory owners and the labour agency that engaged them were left out of the compensation package. The remaining 65 workers managed to get compensations because they believed in the labour rights and our labour rights society” Ko Ye Min said.

The 65 workers sued the factory owners after being sacked and brought the matter to court four months ago. They were paid the compensation on March 31.

According to to the AAC, initially, 108 Myanmar workers were dismissed but 43 withdrew from the case.

Thailand’s Labour Rights Department ruled that the factory must pay 3000 baht to the workers as the business owners failed to give
them proper notice.

Ko Ye Min said that according to Thai labour laws, factory owners have to compensate 9000 baht (one month wages) to the workers who have put in four months to a year in service.

Workers who have served for from one to three years, have been compensated with 27,000 baht (three month wages).

The PCG Group’s Thai Pet also had to compensate 54,000 baht (six month wages ) to the workers who have three to six years’ services and 72,000 baht (8 month wages) to those who have six to nine years’ services.

And workers who worked for nine years or more were compensated 90,000 baht, according to the AAC.

“Workers need to be patient if they face labour disputes in Thailand. They must be prepared to wait for a long time. Workers must have the will to confront delinquent employers. They also need to trust the labour organisation and seek their help,” Ko Ye Min told The Myanmar Times.

Out of the 65 workers, eight of them were employed under a joint MoU between the two governments while the others were living and

working in Thailand with temporary passports.
A total of 108 migrant workers, employed by the PCG group had been working for between one and 12 years, were sacked in November 2016, after the owners hired about 200 workers from Cambodia.

Speaking to The Myanmar Times, factory worker Ko Soe Hlaing Min, who put in two years’ service, said “Factory officials told us we don’t need to work anymore. They would not give us any more jobs. They also told us that we can report to any official but nothing will come of it.”

Myanmar embassy officials managed to help the workers to sue the factory owners, who dismissed the workers illegally in December 2016.

The Myanmar Times couldn’t reach embassy officials yesterday for their comments on the compensation package.

According to a statement by Thai based Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN), another 14 Myanmar migrant workers, employed at a chicken farm, were compensated 1.7 million baht because their labour rights had been violated.

The case of the 14 Myanmar migrants has prompted the Thai government to investigate all chicken farms and has taken action against those that have violated labour rights.

The 14 Myanmar migrants were awarded the human rights prize by a Thai human rights lawyer’s foundation.

 

By: Zaw Zaw Htwe, Myanmar Times

Published On: 4 April 2017

DOE seeks G2G deal to find more fishermen (Thailand)

BANGKOK, 2nd April 2017, (NNT) – The Department of Employment is seeking government to government (G2G) deals with Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam (CLMV) to address the issue of under-staffing in the fishing industry.

The comment was made by DOE Director-General Waranon Pitiwan, indicating that a large number of migrant workers refused to register for work permits during the registration period which recently ended. He said these laborers instead chose to relocate, and remain illegal workers, which ultimately creates demand for human resources.

Director-General Waranon disclosed that the Command Center for Combating Illegal Fishing (CCCIF) will soon meet with the Marine Department, the Fisheries Department, the Labor Ministry and the Royal Thai Navy on finding solutions to this issue.

According to the DOE Director-General, one of the initial remedies is to hold talks with CLMV nations to sign G2G deals on directly bringing laborers from those countries to work in the fisheries industry in Thailand.

He explained that the details of the deal will be clearly specified, with a highlight being systematic assistance measures.

Director-General Waranon speculated that intense workloads and the stress of being at sea for extended periods of time are the main aspects that dissuade migrant laborers from working in the industry. He is of the opinion that employers should consider offering attractive incentives to their employees.

He urged migrant workers who don’t have work permits to register their nationality with the authority, while underlining the government’s commitment to eliminating illegal work issues in the Kingdom within a year.

 

By: Reporter : Na-ark Rojanasuvan; Rewriter : Rodney McNeil, National News Bureau of Thailand

Published On: 2 April 2017

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