34,000 Migrant Workers Return from Thailand

By Htet Naing Zaw 6 July 2017

More than 34,000 migrant workers have returned to Myanmar since the Thai government launched a crackdown on illegal foreign workers, according to the Union minister for labor, immigration and population U Thein Swe.

The minister said the two governments were negotiating to issue work permits to undocumented Myanmar workers in Thailand, at the ministry’s press conference on the issue of Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand and Malaysia in Naypyitaw on Wednesday.

“It is also important that workers go to Thailand through licensed agencies only when Thai businessmen send job offers, they should not trust brokers,” said the minister.

The Thai government has promised not to arrest more illegal Myanmar migrant workers this year, he said. It also promised not to detain Myanmar citizens, but hand them over to the Myanmar government, the minister added.

The Myanmar government estimates there are nearly 5 million Myanmar migrants in Thailand with around 2.2 million working legally with the correct documents, said the minister.

There are around 500,000 Myanmar migrants in Malaysia and around 200,000 are legal, according to the minister.

The Thai government declared a 180-day delay in enforcing parts of the new labor law aimed at regulating the foreign workforce after criticism that the crackdown had caused economic chaos.

“State Counselor Daw Aung San Suu Kyi made a special request to the Thai Ambassador to Myanmar and requested him to ask higher-level authorities to consider,” director general of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs U Myo Tint said at the press conference. “Thai authorities relaxed the policy the same day,” he added.

Since the Thai government’s move to arrest foreign workers, Myanmar migrants have been flocking through various border checkpoints along the Thai-Myanmar border. In Karen State, they were welcomed back by government representatives and private businessmen, with the Myanmar Army assisting in transport back to their hometowns.

“The policy of the president and the state counselor regarding migrant workers is that the [Myanmar] government must protect its citizens whether they are working legally or illegally [in foreign countries]. We have informed the concerned embassies of this policy,” said minister U Thein Swe.

Director general U Myo Tint said his ministry is also helping Myanmar migrant workers in Malaysia after the labor attaché of the Myanmar Embassy in Malaysia reported that Myanmar workers were being arrested.

The director general said the Myanmar Embassy in Malaysia could solve 55 of 56 labor cases reported to it; and it was also working to deliver justice for Myanmar migrants who were killed in Malaysia.

Myanmar migrant worker U Nyan Naing Ye, who is working in Malaysia’s Kuala Lumpur, told The Irrawaddy that migrant workers were being arrested by the Malaysian authorities. “Even legal workers are brought to the police station for interrogation,” he said. “We feel unsafe. There are tens of thousands of people who are overstaying and they all are in a state of alarm. It all depends on their bosses to retain their jobs.”

Additional reporting by Pe Thet Htet Khin. Translated form Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.