Embassy Donates to Migrant Crash Fund, Irrawaddy

BANGKOK—In a departure from policy, officials from the Burmese embassy in Bangkok have made a small official contribution to a fund for victims of the truck crash on Monday in Thailand’s Samut Sakorn District that killed 6 Burmese and injured more than 60.

According to Preeyaporn Khankumnere, a project coordinator with the Human Rights Development Foundation who works closely with the affected Burmese migrant workers, an officer from the embassy went to the hospitals where the injured are being treated, and initially offered to donate 1,000 baht (US $35) to some of the injured.

According to Preeyaporn, some of the injured have left hospital already, though others are in a serious condition.

When informed that migrant workers had already set up a fund to raise money for the injured, the Embassy official instead made a lump 16,000 baht ($560) donation to that. Most of the injured are workers with seafood supplier Gallant Ocean (Thailand).

This attempted outreach comes soon after discussion of a policy on Burmese migrant workers in the Burmese parliament in Naypyidaw. Moves are afoot to establish a new government department, according to junta mouthpiece The New Light of Myanmar, which said on March 28 that the parliament “discussed the approved proposal to call on the government to form a migrant workers affairs department under a suitable ministry submitted by Dr, Myat Nyana Soe of Yangon Region.”

Quoting the relevant parliament minutes almost verbatim, the state-run newspaper acknowledged that “most of [the] migrant workers who went abroad through brokers and through borders are facing many difficulties.”

Lawmakers also said that more needs to be done to clamp down on brokers who facilitate migrants seeking to go to Thailand, Malaysia and elsewhere. Often the brokers are involved in human trafficking, with Burmese government officials in border areas, as well as some ethnic militia groups, also profiting from trafficking of vulnerable Burmese.

According to a source in Burma who asked not to be identified, Burma’s government wants media there to devote additional coverage to migrant workers’ issues, which might explain the recent New Light of Myanmar article.

New Burmese President Thein Sein said in a recent speech that the Burmese government would implement minimum labour and wage standards. A trade union law is under discussion at the moment, though the Burmese government has not yet submitted it to the International Labour Organization for review, to examine if the law is compliant with international standards. Trade union laws are being discussed elsewhere in the region, with a draft code in Cambodia under attack for what union leaders see as a thinly disguised attempt by the government in Phnom Penh to control and intimidate unions, rather than facilitate organizations or promote workers rights.

The New Light of Myanmar report added that “the government is providing necessary assistance” to migrant workers, though in reality this has not been the case in the past.

Neither the newspaper nor the parliamentary discussions of migrant workers’ issues made any reference to the state of Burma’s economy, which is the principal driver of economic migration out of Burma. A mass privatization of state assets in 2010 benefited no more than a few dozen business cronies of the junta, which earns billions of dollars in gas, oil, gemstones and other revenues, but spends less than 5 percent of the annual budget on health and education combined, in one of Asia’s poorest countries.

Andy Hall,- a migrant worker expert at Thailand’s Mahidol University, said that the Burmese embassy in Thailand has typically been indifferent to the millions of Burmese in Thailand, who have fled a basket-case economy at home to work in menial jobs, often under exploitative conditions, in Thailand.

“In the past, the embassy has not done anything for migrant workers affected by accident or disaster, such as after the 2004 tsunami or after the deaths of 54 Burmese migrant workers in Ranong in 2008,” he said.

However, welcoming the interest shown by the embassy in Bangkok in the lorry crash victims, he said that “there seems to be relatively positive developments in the consular assistance provided by the Myanmar Embassy to Myanmar migrants in Thailand recently that should be encouraged.”

Meanwhile, a joint statement was issued by Mekong Migration Network and Action Network for Migrants (Thailand) on Thursday titled “Workers at Risk: Greed, Overcrowding, Lack of Public Transport.”

It called on the Thai government to ensure that the families of all workers killed in the Samut Sakorn accident are fully compensated; and that the injured workers receive full free hospital care and are compensated for loss of work time.

The Thailand-based groups also urged the Thai government to enforce safety regulations, improve public transport systems in migrant-reliant areas, and reduce the travel and driving restrictions on migrant workers.

By SIMON ROUGHNEEN Friday, April 8, 2011

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