Embassy Warns Burmese in Thailand About Pre-Referendum Crackdown

By Saw Yan Naing 2 August 2016

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — The Burmese embassy in Bangkok has sent warning notices to Burmese migrants in Thailand alerting them of a surge in raids and surprise checks by Thai police and the army on migrants’ workplaces and living quarters.

These interventions are part of a an extensive security clampdown by the Royal Thai Police and the Royal Thai Army ahead of an August 7 referendum on the new draft constitution drafted by the ruling military junta.

The notice, issued by the embassy on Monday, warned Burmese nationals living or visiting Thailand for any reason to exercise extra caution while working and traveling, to carry the required immigration documents with them at all times, and to calmly submit to inspections from the Thai police.

The notice also provided contact numbers for the embassy, and invited calls from any Burmese national in Thailand requiring assistance.

Thai online news outlets have reported Thai police and army raids on the workplaces and living quarters of Burmese migrant workers, alongside crackdowns on small businesses run by migrants—whom Thai authorities accuse of stealing jobs from Thai nationals.

According to Burmese migrant sources, Thai police have been conducting surprise inspections in the markets of the northern city of Chiang Mai, where many Burmese migrants make their livelihood.

Ko Oo, a Burmese migrant worker living in Chiang Mai, said it had been worse than previous crackdowns, with Thai police intervening not only in migrants’ workplaces but also in the houses and makeshift structures where migrants live. He said small shops run by Burmese migrants in the city had been kept shut as a precaution.

During workplace raids, Ko Oo said the police arrest all migrants whose papers state different employers and workplace addresses.

In recent days, a crackdown by Thai police and soldiers has been taking place in Mae Sot, a town near the Burmese border with a large transient Burmese population. Reportedly many Burmese migrant workers in the town have been arrested and deported to Myawaddy, the Burmese town on the other side of the border.

Royal Thai Army soldiers have also been deployed at illegal crossing points along the Burmese border.

Migrant labor rights groups in Thailand estimate there to be between 3-4 million Burmese migrants in Thailand, only 1.7 million of whom are registered.

On a trip to Thailand in June, Burma’s State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi made a series of public addresses, including to Burmese migrant workers at the Talay Thai Seafood Market in the port town of Mahachai in Samut Sakhon Province. She cited agreements for increased cooperation with the Thai government on ensuring migrants’ labor rights, as well as plans to improve job opportunities in Burma in order to tempt migrants back.