Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Thai Immigration Officials Exploit Flood Victims

Irrawaddy News
Burmese women are transported to Mae Sot Immigration office before being deported.

Hundreds of Burmese migrant workers fleeing a flood disaster in Bangkok have been detained or forced to pay bribes to Thai immigration officials in Mae Sot or on their way to the Burmese border.

Those detained or arrested included not only illegal migrants, but also many who have registered with the Thai government and those who hold work permits.

Several of the victims who spoke to The Irrawaddy this week said they were detained on the basis that their registration papers do not permit them to leave the area of Bangkok or the town where they otherwise work.

According to Thai government regulations, foreign migrant workers who have temporary migrant registration papers—but who do not have temporary passports—are restricted in their movement to the area in which they are registered.

Most Burmese migrants are also limited to what jobs they can perform in Thailand: generally manual labor, manufacturing, construction and domestic work.

But this month has seen some of the worst floods ever recorded in the Thai capital and its surrounding provinces, forcing many residents and migrant workers to abandon their homes or shelters and leave the city. Many workplaces, including factories, have been closed in Bangkok.

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On Tuesday, between 1 and 4 pm, Mae Sot immigration picked up several hundred migrant workers and transported them in 13 crowded trucks and two mini-vans to Gate 10 on the Thai side of the border where they were deported by being ferried across the Moei River to Myawaddy.A Burmese worker who was detained at Mae Sot checkpoint said, “I paid 2,800 baht [US $95] at Mae Sot immigration for my release and told I could go anywhere I wanted.”

Another victim who was deported to Myawaddy said, “I paid 2,500 baht to the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army [rebel militia] at the gate in Myawaddy. Once I was through, I just had to pay 20 baht [$0.66] for each bag I was carrying, 20 baht for the ferry and 70-80 baht to get a motorcycle taxi back to Mae Sot.”

Among the deported and detained migrants were workers who said they had already made arrangement with agents in Bangkok, presumably in cooperation with Thai immigration officers, to transport them to final destinations in Burma.

The Irrawaddy contacted the Mae Sot immigration office, but staff refused to make any comment.

Andy Hall, a consultant to the Thailand-based Human Rights and Development Foundation, said the immigration officers' behavior was unacceptable and a violation of human rights. He said that both the Thai and Burmese governments should address the issue urgently.

“They need to be solving these problems,” he said. “It is unacceptable that people who are fleeing from flooded homes are being exploited by officials.”

Hall said he met with the Thai deputy prime minister and labor minister when they visited the Wat Rai Khing migrant emergency shelter in Nakorn Pathom on Wednesday. He said the ministers listened to the migrants' concerns and that he himself rose the issue of exploitation.

Surapong Kongchantuk, the chairperson of the Human Rights Subcommittee on Ethnic Minorities, Stateless, Migrant Workers and Displaced Persons told The Irrawaddy on Wednesday that the Thai authorities should do more to help people who are in trouble.

“I think they should not add more problems to migrants who are already trying to flee,” he said.

Sai Soe Win Latt, a Canadian researcher from Simon Fraser University who is currently observing the deportation in Mae Sot, said that on the crowded trucks, he saw newborn babies, sick mothers and pregnant women.

“People working at the gate were crowding them onto the ferry as if they were animals,” he said.

He added that Thai immigration officers frequently violate human rights by treating potential victims of disaster as criminals, putting them in overcrowded trucks and deporting them, instead of making alternative disaster relief arrangements.

Since Thailand began its National Verification system for migrant workers from Burma in 2009, nearly 655,868 Burmese have registered. There are estimated to be at least two million Burmese migrants living in Thailand.
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