AMC statement concerning the death of 54 Burmese, submitted to the Royal Consulate-General in Hong Kong

Re: Tragedy of 54 migrants’ death

Dear Hon. Consul General,

Asian Migrant Centre (AMC) is sincerely saddened and concerned by the following tragedy in Phuket.

On the 10th of April 2008, 54 migrants including 37 women (one girl) and 17 men (one boy) from Burma suffocated to death in the back of a truck while being smuggled into the resort island of Phuket. 67 others survived in the incident.

Several media sources including South China Morning Post dated on the 11th of April 2008 covered this tragic incident as top news. As we are all aware, millions of migrant workers coming from its neighbouring countries, namely Burma, Lao PDR and Cambodia make tremendous contribution to Thai economy by performing the jobs that local workers are no longer willing to do. However, it is sad to see that the migrant workers issues are repeatedly discussed from the national security point of view without due recognition of their work and contribution. We were appalled to hear that the Thai Navy is exploring a top-level suggestion that an island detention centre would be a suitable deterrent to a problem of increased illegal migration. (SCMP, April 11th, 2008, A12)

Concerning this tragedy, SCMP also quoted the Thai police referring to the problem of smuggling racket. It may be easy to blame the smugglers and acknowledge that it is not safe for migrants to leave their fate to the hands of smugglers. However,  the underlying problem is that these migrants, especially those from Burma, have no other choice but to risk their lives coming to Thailand to survive. There is no legal migration channel that ordinary people in Burma have access to. The process of implementing the MOU on Cooperation in Employment has not been effective with Burma, while it is making some progress, albeit slow, with Lao PDR and Cambodia.  Even when migrant workers register for a work permit in Thailand and receive an ID, they are not allowed to travel beyond the province from where their work is registered. Such restriction of mobility makes it impossible for any migrant in Thailand to move around without seeking the help of the smugglers or agents, which effectively enhances the migrants dependency on them.

Thus, we would like to urge the respective authorities of the Royal Thai Government to handle the issue of migrants coming to Thailand from the approaches of the labour and human rights protection issues, rather than those of national security issues. As the studies by the Mekong Migration Network (MMN) suggest, tighter restriction of people’s mobility, which unfortunately sometimes occurs as a result of anti-trafficking or anti-smuggling efforts, often ironically result in the increased vulnerability of migrants to trafficking and tragic incidents like this in Phuket. We believe it is high time to grant proper protection for migrant workers, including their right to mobility, and easier access to registration so that migrant workers will be able to regain more control over their own lives.

In conclusion, we respectfully urge you to relay our following recommendations to the respective administration in Bangkok.

  1. Migrant workers who survived this Phuket tragedy and families of the victims should receive a proper medical care, physiological counseling, and the compensation under law for death and injuries.
  2. The government’s registration system needs to be improved so that the migrant workers can register any time of the year, and at convenient locations especially along the border areas, so that they have a chance to receive a work permit more straightforwardly.
  3. Once migrant workers register for a work permit, there shall be no restriction to their right to mobility within the country.
  4. We urge the Royal Thai Government to stop the criminalization of migrants, and grant due protection to all migrant workers in the kingdom.

Respectfully yours,

Reiko Harima

Asian Migrant Centre

This letter is endorsed by the following organizations:

  1. Asian Migrant Centre
  2. Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma (TACDB)
  3. The National Human Rights Society of Malaysia (HAKAM)
  4. Joint Committee with Migrants, Korea
  5. Commission for Filipino Migrant Workers
  6. Platform of Filipino Migrant Workers in Europe
  7. Welfare Association of Repatriated Bangladesh Employees (WARBE), Bangladesh
  8. Solidaritas Perempuan (Women’s Solidarity for Human Rights), Indonesia
  9. Center for Indonesian Migrant Workers (CIMW), Indonesia
  10. Transnational Institue (TNI)
  11. National Centre for Labour, India
  12. Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants’ Trade Union, Korea
  13. Jarnas Pekabumi – Indonesia