Press Release: Proposed Measures to Arrest Undocumented Migrants Are Life-Threatening and Counterproductive

Press Release
June 22nd 2010

Proposed Measures to Arrest Undocumented Migrants Are Life-Threatening
and Counterproductive

The Mekong Migration Network is deeply concerned for the safety of migrant workers in Thailand following Order No 125/2553 of the Prime Minister’s Office, regarding the Suppression, Prosecution and Arrest of Migrants Working Underground.

During 2010 alone there have already been 23 reported deaths of migrant workers resulting from acts of suppression. In the third week of January nine Karen job-seekers were shot dead in Phop Phra District, allegedly after being unable to pay a bribe to local police. On February 25th 2010, three migrant children (a three-year-old, six-year-old and 16-year-old) were shot dead when soldiers fired at the car transporting them. In Phuket, on March 8th 2010, two young sisters drowned while trying to escape a police raid on their camp.
On May 23rd, 2010, nine Chin migrants, including two young children, died and 19 others were seriously injured when the pick-up they were travelling in was fired upon and chased by a police car in Petchburi province.

The members of the Mekong Migration Network are greatly disturbed by this use of lethal force by the various Thai authorities (police, border police, army) against undocumented migrants. We fear that these deaths and injuries will multiply if the policy to suppress and arrest migrants is enforced.

In addition, we believe that to set up the Centre for the Suppression, Prosecution and Arrest of Migrants based in the Ministry of Labour is counterproductive to efforts being made to regularise migrants with temporary passports; and also to fulfilling the Ministry of Labour’s stated goal to enhance the quality of life and social security for workers.

Giving the mandate of suppression, prosecution and arrest of workers to the Ministry of Labour will clearly undermine all workers’ confidence and trust in the ministry, and will threaten the security of all workers in Thailand. The enforcement of the labour laws for migrant workers is already shamefully weak, and should the ministry take on the role of policing the immigration status of migrants, the workers will have no legal avenues through which to improve their working conditions.

Only a small percentage of migrants undergoing nationality verification have actually received their temporary passport, the rest, almost one million, are still in the process. Since the process requires trust and cooperation between migrants, employers and local authorities, the current Order is also likely to impact on the effectiveness of regularising undocumented migrants. Migrants have long experience of mass raids which do not screen migrants’ status. It is highly likely that some migrants holding only appointment cards for nationality verification will also be arrested, together with undocumented migrants, and this will undermine the confidence of all migrants to proceed with regularisation.

Furthermore, ordering the arrest of the 300,000 migrants who were eligible to enter into the nationality verification process but did not follow through does not address the shortcomings of the process, it only causes more confusion, distrust and resentment.

The Mekong Migration Network thus makes the following recommendations:

1. to protect migrants from the dangers of arrest, detention and deportation we call on the Royal Thai Government to
• immediately revoke Order No 125/2553
• limit the use of arrest, detention and/or deportation as a strategy to respond to irregular migration – but when it is used, to ensure that the procedures are carried out with safeguards established in international human rights, and national, laws
• to strictly abide by the United Nations Basic Principles on the Use of Force and Firearms by Law Enforcement Officials which requires that law enforcement officials shall as far as possible apply non-violent means before resorting to the use of arms when performing law enforcement duties

2. to respond to irregular migration, we call on the Royal Thai Government to

• facilitate the nationality verification, temporary passport and work permit process for migrants currently in the system
• open the system of obtaining nationality verification, temporary passports and work permits to all migrants

3. to protect the safety of migrants, we call on

• the National Human Rights Commission to investigate all cases of use of lethal weapons by authorities in relation to the arrest of undocumented migrants
• the Ministry of Justice to ensure that witnesses to such incidences are protected and that migrant witnesses are provided with documentation to remain safely in Thailand during the investigations
• the Ministry of Justice to ensure that families of victims of state violence are properly compensated
• the Ministry of Labour to perform its duties in protecting and safeguarding workers by ensuring that working conditions conform to the national laws and the ILO Decent Work standards

For further information please contact:
Ms. Laddawan Tamafu +66 8 1595 1364 (Thai/English)
Mr. Sutthiphong Khongkhaphon +66 8 1595 1366 (Burmese/English)

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