Category Archives: Safe Migration

Songkran gifts for all

A platform at the Mor Chit inter-provincial bus station in Bangkok is packed with people returning home to the provinces for the Songkran long weekend last year. (Photo by Patipat Janthong)

The cabinet on Tuesday approved free services on inter-city tollways for motorists and a fee waiver for migrant workers to celebrate the upcoming Songkran festival.

Transport Minister Arkhom Termpittayapaisith said the cabinet allowed the Highways Department to waive tolls on the Bangkok-Pattaya motorway and Bang Pa-in-Bang Phli ring road from April 11 to 18.

Besides, the Expressway Authority of Thailand planned to waive fees on its Bang Na-Chon Buri expressway during the Songkran festival in mid-April, he said.

The decisions would facilitate road traffic during the festival, the minister said.

Assistant government spokesman Athisit Chaiyanuwat said the cabinet also ordered the Interior Ministry to waive fees for trips between Thailand and neighbouring countries — Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar — for migrant workers from April 5 to 30 to allow them to conveniently celebrate the water festival in their homeland. Immigration police were also told to waive its travel fees on migrant workers.

The ministry would also let migrant workers travel conveniently with their family members.

 

By: Amornrat Mahitthirook and Online Reporters

Published on: 15 March 2017

Maid about the house

A new report from the UN makes a strong case for respecting the rights of migrant domestic workers

IN THAILAND as in other countries of the region, employing domestic workers has long been a cultural and social practice as much as an economic one. In the past, such jobs were routinely filled by girls from the provinces and while often overworked and grossly underpaid, they were usually absorbed into the family, which provided them with some kind of security away from their own loved ones.

Today, domestic work has all but been taken over by migrants from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, most of them in the country illegally. They too in many cases become part of the family but unlike their Thai peers have no security and few, if any rights.

Their plight is addressed in a research study recently launched by the United Nations Women Regional Office for Asia and Pacific in Bangkok. The publication, entitled “Worker, Helper, Auntie, Maid?”: Working conditions and attitudes experienced by migrant domestic workers in Thailand and Malaysia” makes the point that while there is nothing wrong with these workers becoming “fictive kin” – the term used to describe non-familial relationships – they should also be protected by an employment contract that recognises their human and labour rights.

The report makes for interesting and eye-opening reading. On the statistical side, it notes that approximately 73.4 per cent of all migrant domestic workers are women. The Asia and Pacific region is home to the largest percentage of domestic workers, making up more than 40 per cent of the global total. The region also hosts the largest share of women migrant domestic workers, at 24 per cent of the global total.

In Thailand, of the 250,000 migrant domestic workers from Laos, Myanmar Cambodia and Vietnam, many are unregistered and without a work permit. These housekeepers, nannies and caregivers are often caught between immigration law and employment law and excluded from labour rights and protections. As a consequence they are vulnerable to exploitative and unfair conditions.

In Thailand, employment conditions of domestic workers are mainly governed through labour laws. In Malaysia, however, immigration law is the principle instrument of governance, with labour law as a secondary focus.

Few Thai employers feel that a written contract is an appropriate right for a domestic worker, preferring to integrate them as part of the family – indeed, only seven percent of migrant domestic workers surveyed here had a written contract.

By contrast in Malaysia, even respondents who felt that domestic workers should be treated as part of the family were supportive of written contracts, which can be put down to the fact that contracts are associated with immigration requirements and explicitly tie workers to employers.

For the workers themselves, close relationships with their employees are governed by emotion and reciprocity rather than a contract. And, of course, these emotional aspects have a considerable impact on their experiences.

Perhaps that explains in part why workers surveyed for the study expressed a lack of enthusiasm for contracts, associating them with a lack of  freedom to leave their job, thus affecting their ability to change employers. A less surprising finding was that up to 90 per cent of migrant domestic workers in both countries are paid below the minimum wage.

“People treat you badly when they think that you have no choice,” says one Myanmar domestic worker interviewed for the report. Another, also from Myanmar, says, “They say if they give high salary, it won’t be a family any more”. A domestic worker from the Philippines has similar grievances; “I won’t complain. If I complain they won’t let me go out. When I go out at least I can find another employer.”

William Gois, representative of the Migrant Forum in Asia, says that change must begin from the workers themselves. “While history tells us that they struggle even if they work together to claim their rights, the ‘informed’ sector of society, such as feminist groups in Thailand for example, can bring their cases into the light.

“The close family environment is often created because the employer wants to hide something. He or she is worried that the migrant domestic workers will give away the family’s secrets or that they will run away with a boyfriend and leave the family in the lurch. This has to stop. Employers must create more space for the domestic workers, ensure they have days off and allow them to have a phone,” Gois continues.

“We need to deconstruct this ‘being part of the family’ mentality. It is symptomatic of the patriarchal system that can be traced back to the colonial period. We have to stop this attitude of ‘benevolent employer caring for someone with lower status’. It’s all very well to say, ‘well, she’s part of the family’ but you would never see a family member with this kind of job description. The employer is bringing an outsider into the family home so yes, it is important to build trust and confidence but in return the work space and the dignity of work that the domestic worker does must also be recognised.”

The findings and recommendations of the UN Women’s study are backed up by a 2011 Master Degree’s Thesis prepared by Ekachai Eutanpisit for the Faculty of Economics, Chulalongkorn University. Titled “Maids, Migrant Domestic Workers in Thai Households and State Protection”, it points out that the exploitation of maids raises questions about the state’s effectiveness in embracing laws and the governmental mechanism in protecting the rights of this group of workers. The expansion of the role of working women and the greater economic value that this implies has given birth to a need for low-paid female migrants to take over the housekeeping duties. While many are treated well, their poor working and living conditions are often ignored by employers and government agencies, the international labour organisation and state mechanisms ineffectively regulate the power of employers in private homes.

Ruchika Bahl, regional programme manager – migration, says blame should also be placed on the media for painting such a negative image of migrant workers.

One of the key findings in the publication to come out of the press analysis was the strikingly strong association made between “immigration” and “illegality” in such English-language newspapers as Malaysia’s New Straits Times and Thailand’s The Nation.

The negative images and discourses disseminated in the media contribute to creating a hostile environment workers, the report states, adding that in both Thailand and Malaysia, employers surveyed associated migrants with crime and were concerned about their potential as domestic workers.

Some of these embedded stereotypes and damaging images need to be challenged. One potential avenue for such change could be through the inclusion of the voices of migrant workers themselves rather than relying solely on police and other officials.

Ultimately, the publication proposes that laws and policies regulating migrant domestic workers’ employment experiences be brought in line with relevant international standards, including ILO Convention No 189. In the Asean bloc, the only country to have ratified it is the Philippines. In addition, employers and the public need to be educated more broadly about the rights and contributions of migrant domestic workers, emphasising that treating someone as “part of the family” should include respecting their human and labour rights.

By: Kupluthai Pungkanon, The Nation

Published on: 12 Janurary, 2017

Duped Workers Detain Suspected Con Man in Phnom Penh, The Cambodia Daily

A group of 90 disgruntled workers protested Tuesday outside the office of a recruitment company that they say abandoned most of them at a border checkpoint on Saturday morning and cheated them out of the hundreds of dollars they had paid to work in Thailand.

The workers, who had registered with Chin Vanda Manpower, arrived outside the firm’s Sen Sok district office Tuesday morning after 63 of them were left at a guesthouse at the Duong International Checkpoint in Battambang province by a fixer named Seng Salen, according to 35-year-old worker Douch Phors.

“We waited a long time at the border without hearing any good news, then we realized that the company had cheated us,” Mr. Phors said. “I know they cheated me because they just brought us to the border without the border documents and the representative lied and then he fled.”

The workers—who said they had made payments of between $250 and $400 to the company, which was run by Chin Vanda—returned by bus to Phnom Penh on Sunday and Monday after they realized Mr. Salen was not coming back for them, Mr. Phors said. The group arrived at the firm’s office Tuesday to find it empty and the company’s logo removed.

Calls made to the company’s phone number Tuesday went unanswered.

However, as the workers were standing outside the office, some of them spotted Mr. Salen riding his motorcycle and detained him, according to Chhang Moa, a 28-year-old worker.

“This morning we saw Mr. Salen driving his motorbike by chance, then we arrested him,” he said.

Speaking to a reporter while surrounded by the workers, Mr. Salen denied conning the group and claimed he did not return to the guesthouse because he had not received the payment from Mr. Vanda for the workers’ visas and other expenses.

“My boss said he would transfer the money to me to pay the guesthouse and for food for the migrant workers but he kept delaying the time to transfer the money,” Mr. Salen said. “I didn’t go back to meet with the migrant workers because my boss did not transfer the money to me.”

Contacted later Tuesday afternoon, Mr. Phors said he had driven Mr. Salen to the Interior Ministry’s anti-human trafficking department, and that they had detained him.

Officials at the department could not be reached.

By: Buth Kimsay, Tha Cambodia Daily

Published on: 23 September 2015

Lao Migrants To Be Witnesses in Thai Human Trafficking Case, RFA

Thirteen migrant Lao workers rescued last week by Thai police and military officers from a pig farm outside Bangkok where they were kept in slave-like conditions will be witnesses in a human trafficking case against their employer, a police official involved in the case said.

When officers raided the pig and chicken farm on Aug. 22 in the Muang district of Nakhon Pathom province, they found the Lao farmhands confined to areas with metal bars that resembled animal cages.

“In two months, the lawsuit will be drawn up and submitted to the court, which will take about four to five months to consider the case and investigate witnesses for the prosecution,” Thanee Pookpanich, head of the Sam Kwai Pheuk Police Station in Muang district, told RFA’s Lao Service.

Thai police found the group after two workers escaped and notified authorities. One of the escapees, Chanon Saenkaeo, 25, said the Lao workers were beaten, forced to work all day without pay, and had to defecate in plastic bags because the cages they were kept in had no toilets, Thai media reported.

Some also had sustained head injuries from beatings by Thai staff, but were denied medical treatment, he said.

Authorities have transferred the 12 male workers to a witness protection center for victims of human trafficking in Pathum Thani province, while the one female worker was sent to Kredtarakarn Protection and Occupational Development Center in Nonthaburi province, Thai media reported. Nine of them are between 15 and 18 years old.

“Now that the workers are physically well and their welfare is being protected, it’s no problem,” said the director of the Pathumthani Provincial Protection and Occupational Development Center, who only gave his surname, Pongsak. “I am working on the operation process, but cannot give more details about it.”

Investigators have determined that the 13 Laotians illegally obtained jobs at the pig farm through a job broker, reports said.

One Laotian, who refused to give his name, said he landed at the farm three months ago after he paid the job broker 5,000 baht (U.S.$140) to smuggle him into Thailand for work, according to Thai media reports. He said he was promised a salary of 7,000 baht (U.S. $196), but never received any money.

Chaidet Sonut, 55, owner of the pig farm who is also a manager of a Krung Thai Bank branch in Nakhon Pathom province, was arrested last Saturday and faces charges of human trafficking and detaining, assaulting, and giving shelter to illegal immigrant workers.

He denied all charges and was released on 500,000-baht (U.S. $14,013) bail on Sunday, Thai media reported.

Criticism from rights groups

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha has publicly vowed strict enforcement of anti-human trafficking laws and cooperation with international organizations to stop the crime.

But human rights groups and western countries continue to criticize Thailand for failing to stamp out slave labor and trafficking people from neighboring countries, including Laos.

The United States placed Thailand in the lowest ranking for the second consecutive year in its annual global trafficking report issued in July, citing the country’s serious failure to combat the crime and longstanding practice of recruiting people from neighboring countries to work on fishing boats where they subsequently are subjected to forced labor on Thai-owned vessels in international waters.

Lao men and boys who seek work outside the country are often trafficked to Thailand through brokers who charge high fees, then face forced labor conditions in the country’s fishing, construction, and agricultural industries, the report said.

A Lao researcher who specializes in migrant workers and youth development told RFA that many of the Laotians who go to Thailand to work do so because they believe the international experience increases their social value back in landlocked Laos. Contrary to popular belief, they are not poor and are well aware that they are at risk for human trafficking, he said.

“Social value is one factor that convinces them to work in Thailand because they absorb it from the media, and when they come back home, they appear to be more valuable compared to other people in their communities,” said the researcher who declined to give his name.

As for the case of the 13 Laotians discovered at the Thai pig farm, he said it was impossible that Chaidet Sonut, the farm’s owner, was uneducated and unfamiliar with Thailand’s law on human trafficking of 2008, because of his position as a bank manager.

“I am afraid this problem [human trafficking] will get worse when the ASEAN Economic Community is fully integrated,” he said, referring to the regional bloc’s aspirations to create a single market with the free flow of goods, services, investments, capital and skilled labor by 2020.

Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.
Published on 28 August 2015

53 Migrants Detained After Thai Trafficking Bust

RANGOON — Scores of refugees are in detention after being rescued by Thailand’s anti-human trafficking police from a rubber plantation just north of Phuket in Thailand’s Phang Nga province.

The 53 men were found by police in an early morning raid on Saturday. Two male Thai nationals have been arrested on charges of human trafficking.

Many of the victims were Rohingya Muslims who lived in refugee camps in Bangladesh after fleeing communal violence and other forms of persecution in western Burma’s Arakan State. Some of the victims, however, said that they were from Bangladesh.

The group was reportedly intercepted by human traffickers after setting off by boat to seek jobs in Muslim-majority Malaysia.

Htoo Chit, executive director of Thailand-based migrant rights group Foundation for Education and Development, met the trafficking victims in a Phang Nga detention center.

“When I went to meet them,” said Htoo Chit, “some of them showed me their cards from UNHCR [the United Nations refugee agency], which prove that they are from Myanmar [Burma]. They moved to the Bangladesh border because they could stay there as refugees, as they had many difficulties [in Burma].”

The men were taken into police custody at around 4 am on Saturday morning, he said, adding that another group of about 30 refugees were also discovered and detained on the same day.

Thirty-seven people—including an unknown number of women—were detained earlier this month in a similar operation.

Most of the victims will remain in police custody until they can be repatriated, said Htoo Chit, but those who have identified themselves as Rohingya may face longer detention as they are not citizens of either Burma or Bangladesh.

Victims said that they had initially left Bangladesh on a small boat, after being promised jobs in Malaysia by an employment broker. The risky voyage across the Andaman Sea is common this time of year, as the monsoon season winds die down and waters are less volatile.

The journey can be deadly nonetheless; many migrants and refugees die en route as the small, poorly equipped boats frequently capsize or run out of supplies. Those that complete the journey run other risks, such as being intercepted by human traffickers.

Some of the victims detained on Saturday told Htoo Chit that they were transferred from their small boat to a bigger one, which idled in the sea waiting for the refugees to arrive.

“They told me that it took them 19 days to get from Bangladesh to Thailand. They had to stop several times along the way. They spent five days on a small Thai Island, and then they went to the plantation where they were supposed to be taken by car to Malaysia,” he said.

While the dangerous voyage has become increasingly common over the past two years—after communal violence tore apart communities, claimed hundreds of lives and displaced more than 100,000 people—Saturday’s incident had some alarming distinctions.

At least one victim said that he was neither an asylum seeker nor an economic refugee. A man wishing to be referred to simply as Mohamed told Htoo Chit that his hands were bound and he was forced to get on the boat, indicating that some of the victims may have been kidnapped.

Other media reports have cited similar accounts. Agence France-Presse cited an anonymous Thai official saying that, “Some of them were knocked out with anesthetic and taken to the boat, some were tricked … but they did not intend to come to Thailand.”

Htoo Chit described the victims, who still face an indeterminate detention in the crowded Thai facility, as malnourished and weak.

“All of them look very tired, like their bodies have not had enough food,” he said. “They were lying on the floor when we got there.”

More than 140,000 people, mostly stateless Rohingya Muslims, were displaced by several rounds of communal riots that began in Arakan State in June 2012. Most are still living in crowded displacement camps where they are systematically denied access to basic health care, education and other resources. Chronically dire conditions for displaced persons have led many to flee again; some seek asylum in Bangladesh, while many others head south to seek refuge in Malaysia.

The United Nations estimated in June 2014 that more than 86,000 people had attempted the perilous route across the Andaman Sea since June 2012. Newer UN data claims that more than 20,000 have made the trip since the start of 2014 alone.

By: Lawi Weng, The Irrawaddy

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