Burmese Migrants Arrested, But Not Main Target in Thai Crackdown

By Saw Yan Naing 16 June 2014

CHIANG MAI — A heavy crackdown on undocumented migrants in Thailand has so far mostly targeted Cambodian workers, although there have been frequent reports of arrests of Burmese workers, according to organizations working with Burmese migrants in Thailand.

“There is no big crackdown on Burmese immigrant workers like on Cambodians,” said Win Tun, joint secretary of Myanmar Overseas Employment Agencies Federation, a group of agencies that recruit Burmese workers for jobs in Thailand.

He said there was a lack of information regarding the number of Burmese that have been arrested and repatriated by Thai authorities since early June.

“But many Burmese nationals made calls to the Myanmar Embassy and reported about the arrests, these mostly took place in Bangkok and Mahachai [sea port in Samut Sakhon Province], where many Burmese migrant workers stay and work,” he added.

“We will assist our Burmese migrants if they get arrested like Cambodians because we heard that even some documented Burmese immigrants get arrested,” Win Tun said. “We want to help our nationals… We told them not to be afraid of arrest if they have official work permits [in Thailand].”

Kyaw Thaung, director of the Myanmar Association in Thailand, a Bangkok-based organization that provides assistance to Burmese migrants, said he also received reports of arrests during the ongoing crackdown by the Thai military regime.

“We don’t have an exact figure of the number of arrested people, but we received calls and reports from our network about regular arrests,” he said. “Some groups of arrested people number between 10 to a 100.”

The Burmese embassy in Bangkok released a notice on Monday, offering to consular help to Burmese migrant workers if they are arrested and repatriated by Thai authorities. The notice said, “Those who have legal documents, such as passports and work permits, but get arrested, can contact and report to officials at any time through given contact numbers.”

It appears that, unlike the Cambodians, Burmese migrants are not yet leaving the country in large numbers.
A resident of the Burmese-Thai border town of Myawaddy told The Irrawaddy there were no signs of an increase in the number of Burmese workers crossing into Burma.

The Thai junta, which seized power in May 22 coup, announced recently that it would launch a crackdown on illegal migrant workers in Thailand, a move that for now seems to be targeting mostly Cambodian workers.

Fears of an imminent crackdown, fanned by rumors possibly spread by the Thai junta, caused an exodus of Cambodians last week, while thousands were arrested and forcibly repatriated. The International Organization for Migration (IOM) estimates that some 100,000 Cambodians left Thailand in the past week, causing chaos along the Thai-Cambodia border.

The Thai junta, the National Council for Peace and Order, reported that 60,000 Cambodians had crossed the border as of Saturday, but claimed that they were leaving voluntarily to help with farming season in Cambodia.

Thailand relies heavily on cheap, unregulated labor supplied by its poor neighbors Burma, Cambodia and Laos. Estimates of the total number of migrants vary widely, and up to 3 million Burmese and half a million Cambodians are said to be working in Thailand, often performing unskilled jobs in construction sector, restaurants or the fishing industry.

Many cross the border into Thailand illegally and lack official identity papers, Thai working visas and other legal documentation. As a result, many work as unregistered laborers, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation by employers and authorities.

Despite numerous campaigns by migrant rights groups, there has been little improvement in the migrants’ situation in the past decade.