Friday, August 18, 2017

Labour officials to take action against rights workers for ‘legal human trafficking’ remarks

Migrant rights activists who accused the government of operating a “legal” human trafficking pipeline must face punishment for speaking out of line, Thai and Myanmar labour officials have said.

The two rights groups, the Myanmar Association in Thailand (MAT) and the Aid Alliance Committee for Myanmar workers (AAC), last week compared the formal, sanctioned channels for sending Myanmar labourers overseas via memoranda of understanding to exploitative human smuggling rings.

The analogy has been made before, including by European non-profits Finnwatch and Swedwatch who last year found that the MoU route abroad is often just as corrupt, fee-inducing and negligent of the workers’ rights as the illicit networks. But this time, the comparison hit a nerve.

Labour officials in both Thailand and Myanmar rebuked the agencies, and promised penalties would be forthcoming, though the nature of the recourse remains unclear.

“We have long been sympathetic to these groups because they helped workers with a constructive intention. But now, their activities have gone too far. Their remarks have violated the spirit of our MoU contract between our two countries,” U Myo Aung, permanent secretary at the Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population said yesterday.

“We have to take action against these two groups,” he added.

The rights organisations yesterday resigned from a migrant workers protection committee that had been formed by the Myanmar embassy in Thailand.

“We have just resigned [yesterday] because we found that embassy didn’t protect us while we were working to better migrant affairs,” said Ko Ye Min, a leader of the AAC.

Yesterday, local media outlet 7Day reported that the Thai Labour Ministry planned to arrest the leaders of both activist groups for defamation.

Both Ko Ye Min and U Kyaw Thaung, director of the Myanmar Association in Thailand, denied the report.

“That news isn’t true. I just contacted the DSI [Thai Department of Special Investigation] on Saturday [August 6]. They told me they have no plan to arrest us. But they have ordered an investigation into to our allegations about migrant brokers and the Myanmar government colluding, to determine if it is true or not,” said U Kyaw Thaung.

U Kyaw Thaung added that both groups will suspend their projects for the moment.

The group leaders have been facing threats on their life from a gang of human traffickers because they helped rescue many Myanmar victims from that network, U Kyaw Thaung told The Myanmar Times on August 8.

He added that both the Myanmar overseas employment agencies and Thailand are angry that MAT and AAC revealed the unfair and dishonest treatment many workers confront when going abroad via the legally touted agencies.

The Myanmar embassy in Thailand said no one was available to comment on the issue yesterday.