Myanmar migrant workers hold national flags as they wait for the arrival of State Counselor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi at a market in Samut Sakhon province, west of Bangkok, Thailand, on June 23, 2016.
Thai authorities have arrested and deported up to 10,000 Myanmar nationals working in the country as part of a crackdown on illegal immigrants during the last 10 days, an official from a Myanmar nongovernmental organization that helps migrant workers said Monday.
“Over the last 10 days, there have been more arrests of Burmese workers in Thailand,” said Kyaw Thaung, director of the Myanmar Association in Thailand. “According to [our] list, the number of Myanmar nationals arrested around the country in the past 10 days could reach 10,000—an average of about 1,000 each day.”
Those arrested in the operation led by the Thai army work in markets, shopping malls, and hotels, he said. Some were sent to Thailand by employment agencies.
“Most of the workers have work and residency permits, but they are being arrested because the names of their work places and those of their bosses are different from the ones that the authorities have,” Kyaw Thaung said.
Under Thai law, employers and workers can be arrested if the names of workplaces and business owners are different from those that appear on an official list, he said.
So far, only Myanmar employees have been arrested in the operation, he added.
When Thai authorities arrest Myanmar nationals, they confiscate their Thai work permits and residency documents and transport them to towns such as Myawaddy township in southeastern Myanmar’s Kayin state and Tachileik township in eastern Myanmar’s Shan state for deportation.
When Myanmar workers are sent to the border at Myawaddy, they must pay Thai officials 1,000 baht (U.S. $29) to leave Thailand, Kyaw Thaung said.
Some migrants, including those detained in the Thai capital Bangkok, must pay 1,700 baht (U.S. $49) to brokers at a border checkpoint in Myawaddy, Eleven Myanmar media group reported. The brokers in turn pay 500 baht (U.S. $14) of the fee to Thai immigration authorities.
Myanmar migrants who were detained at a work site in Mae Sot, a trade hub near the Thai-Myanmar border did not have to pay the fee, the report said.
If the workers cannot pay the fee, they have to work on the border guards’ farmlands, Kyaw Thaung said.
Myanmar State Counselor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi signed an agreement with Thai Prime Minister General Prayuth Chan-o-cha in June during an official three-day visit to make it easier for Myanmar migrants to work legally in Thailand.
The memorandum of understanding that they signed includes provisions to provide proper identity documents for migrant workers and assurances they will be protected from labor abuses.
Many migrant workers in Thailand—especially those in the country illegally—are at risk of being trafficked as sex workers or for slave-like labor on fishing boats.
Granting the largely undocumented Myanmar workforce in Thailand permanent status has been the subject of negotiations between the two countries.
Myanmar puts the number of migrant workers living in Thailand at 4 million, with only half legally registered to work there, while Thailand’s Ministry of Labor and Social Welfare puts the number at more than 1.4 million.
Also during her visit, Aung San Suu Kyi said Myanmar would welcome back refugees who wish to return voluntarily to the country.
In late June, the Myanmar government said it would begin repatriating nearly 200 of the roughly 120,000 Myanmar refugees displaced by conflict who live in nine border camps.
Voluntary repatriation centers will be set up at the refugee camps this month to assist those who want to return home and to be formally processed according to Thai regulations, the online journal The Irrawaddy reported.
The centers are a part of efforts by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and International Organization for Migration to help the refugees repatriate, the report said.
Reported by Zarni Htun for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. written in English by Roseanne Gerin.