The Burmese ambassador to Thailand on Wednesday spoke up for migrant workers in a meeting with a senior Thai Ministry of Interior official, according to an embassy official.
Labor rights activists have for a long time alleged widespread labor exploitation, extortion by Thai police and human trafficking of migrant workers, hundreds of thousands of whom cross the border from Burma in search of higher wages.
In a meeting in Bangkok, Ambassador Tin Win told Thai Deputy Interior Minister Visarn Techateerawat issues around visas for migrant workers must be solved, according to Kyaw Kyaw Lwin, the labor attaché at the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok.
“Our ambassador talked about visa issues: providing visas for children accompanying migrant parents and collecting the visa fees as we [both countries] have agreed,” Kyaw Kyaw Lwin told The Irrawaddy.
Tin Win complained that visas for children have been delayed despite an agreement between the two countries last year that migrant children should be given two year visas—the same as their parents, he said.
The ambassador also talked about the issue of Thai police arbitrarily arresting or asking for money from documented Burmese migrants in some places of Thailand, he said.
The Burmese Embassy in Bangkok has attempted to intervene on labor rights violations since the President Thein Sein took office in 2011, the attaché said.
“As have received many complaints from the laborers and labor rights activists, we asked the Thai officials to stop these practices,” he said.
But migrant workers are reportedly still been preyed upon by unscrupulous agents or middlemen, as well as the Thai police, despite having legal documents, obtained under a 2009 scheme named the National Verification Process and Issuance of Temporary Passport.
Ma Khine, a migrant worker who recently traveled from Bangkok back to Burma last month, told The Irrawaddy that even though she has all the necessary documents—a temporary passport and valid work permit—she still had problems traveling. She said Thai police at a checkpoint between Bangkok and the Mae Sot border crossing asked her to pay 100 baht (US$3.20) as “tea money”—a term understood to mean a bribe.
“I did not want any trouble, so I paid when I was stopped at two out of five checkpoints along the Bangkok-Mae Sot road,” Mai Kine said.
The Thai deputy minister told the Burmese side he would communicate their concerns to officials at a local level, Kyaw Kyaw Lwin said.
“Mr. Visarn Techateerawat said he will coordinate with the related departments on these issues,” the attaché said.
Visarn also assured the Burmese Embassy that the Thai government was working to ensure good working conditions for Burmese migrant workers in the fisheries industry.
Most migrants currently hold temporary passports that can only be used in Thailand. But in mid-October, Burmese Ministry of Labor announced that migrants would be issued with regular passports, which would be valid in all countries.
Kyaw Kyaw Lwin said that, starting last Monday, the embassy in Thailand has been providing the regular passport to migrant workers.