Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Workers run gauntlet in bid to return home for documents

It is the same story-line from migrant workers across the region. Corrupt officials, unlawful arrest, low wages, employers exploitation and harsh working conditions – are repeated many times by returning migrant workers.

And, it is no exception among Myanmar migrant workers who cross the border to Thailand to eke out a living.

Returning migrants and rights groups claim workers have to oil the hands of some Thai officials to return to their homeland.

“I and other Myanmar workers were arrested by police and asked for about 10,000 baht (K400,704). I refused to pay the bribe. Finally they released me that evening. Some workers had to pay them,” Ko Tun Tun, who has worked in Thai construction for the past 15 years, told The Myanmar Times on July 12.

He said he and other Myanmar migrant workers were arrested by police in Mahar Chaing, Thailand, when they went there to get Certificates of Identity (CI) from the issuing centre on July 7. They were arrested because they had no border pass permits.

Ko Tun Tun said Mahar Chaing police threaten workers they arrest who do not have proper documents with three years in prison or a fine of 100,000 baht.

Ko Shwe Tun Aye, chair of the Migrant Workers’ Network (Phuket), said on July 12 that Myanmar workers trying to return home have been asked for money by Thai officials and brokers working together in Phuket.

“Myanmar migrants are facing arrest and extortion by some Thai officials, although the illegal worker crackdown has been stopped. Myanmar officials need to ask the Thai government to solve these cases,” said Ko Shwe Tun Aye.

He also said that 19 Myanmar workers who were returning home were arrested by Thai police in Phuket and Bangkok on July 7 and detained for three days because they refused to give bribes to the Thai police.

U Aung Kyaw, vice chair of the Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN) based in Thailand, said on July 11 that although the official crackdown on illegal migrant workers has been suspended for 180 days, some Myanmar workers have been arrested and asked for bribes in Samut Sakhon province.

“We discussed these corruption cases with the EU this morning,” U Aung Kyaw said.

Myanmar Embassy official U Moe Aung Khaing said on July 12 that the Myanmar government has asked the Thai authorities to stop the arrest and attempted extortion of Myanmar migrant workers who do not have proper documents.

The Thai government announced their strict new labour laws on June 23 and arrested many illegal foreign workers. An estimated 30,000 Myanmar migrant workers who do not have proper documents have returned home since then.

The Thai government later suspended enforcement of the new labour law for six months to give foreign workers more time to go back home to get the proper documents.

Thailand’s police chief has warned his officers not to arrest or try to extract bribes from illegal foreign workers who are returning home and threatened to punish those who ignore the order.