Thai authorities arrested hundreds of Myanmar migrants in Mahachai near Bangkok on Friday as part of a crackdown on people living and working in the country illegally, according to migrant sources.
Police and immigration officials conducted a door-to-door search, asking migrants to assemble at a location where their documents were checked. Those without the proper paperwork were detained pending deportation.
Police forcibly entered the residences of those who refused to open the door. They also took urine samples from men to test for the presence of methamphetamine and other illegal drugs.
U Aung Kyaw, chairman of the Mahachai-based Migrant Worker Rights Network, told The Irrawaddy on Friday that so far this week Thai authorities had conducted raids in Phuket, Samut Sakhon and Mahachai — three areas known to house many migrants.
“They [the authorities] are working according to their procedures. They released those with legal documents and were set to deport those without legal documents,” U Aung Kyaw said.
U Aung Kyaw said he did not have precise figures but believed hundreds of people had been arrested in Mahachai on Friday morning.
Authorities arrested illegal migrants, but also checked whether migrants with documents were working in fields appropriate to their visas.
Those migrants who had overstayed their visas by a few days were fined, but those whose visas had been expired for a long time were to be deported, U Aung Kyaw said.
Hong Rot, an ethnic Mon migrant from Mahachai, said that on Oct. 16, police knocked on the door of his apartment at 9 a.m. He said he managed to elude authorities, but some of his friends were detained.
He explained that the authorities checked legal documents. Those without legal documents were separated from those who had the correct paperwork.
The authorities also checked the urine of all the men. Those who tested positive were charged with drug offenses.
“Some of my friends were arrested. They are detained at the police station at the moment,” he said.
Thai authorities seized methamphetamine pills and other illegal drugs, along with some firearms, from a dozen ethnic Mon migrants when they raided their apartment on Oct. 16, he said.
U San Maung, an official at the Myanmar Embassy who works on migrant issues, confirmed to The Irrawaddy that Thai authorities had launched an operation targeting illegal migrants.
“First they checked for 90-day migrant visas and work permits. Then, they checked to see who their employers were,” U San Maung said.
He said some Myanmar migrants develop problems with their employers, and take other jobs, but this is not allowed under Thai immigration law.
“Those whose visas had expired or who had switched employers [illegally] were arrested,” he said.
From July to September, the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok reported that Thai authorities repatriated 34,926 Myanmar migrants from camps in Mae Sot, Mae Sai and Ranong.
Thailand changed its procedures for deporting Myanmar migrants after the two countries’ labor ministers met in Naypyitaw in August. Thai authorities used to detain illegal migrants in jail for more than a month before deporting them.