Suu Kyi Strikes Agreements With Thailand On Labor and Borders

By Nyein Nyein 25 June 2016

BANGKOK, Thailand — Burma’s State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi has told Burmese migrant workers in Thailand they would be protected under new agreements signed between the two countries.

She also said jobs would be created in Burma for thousands of Burmese refugees in Thailand who stand to be repatriated, and that the two countries would cooperate over border issues.

Suu Kyi was speaking at a joint press briefing with the Thai Prime Minister Gen Prayut Chan-o-cha in Bangkok on Friday.

After a bilateral meeting, the two leaders witnessed the signing by respective ministers of agreements on cross border affairs and the employment of workers, and a memorandum of understanding on labor cooperation.

These may help address the vulnerabilities—and lack of adequate legal protection—faced by what is estimated to be several million Burmese migrant workers in Thailand.

Suu Kyi said, “I am confident that, because of mutual understanding between us, we will be able to address all the issues and problems of our people in the right way through consultation and through constant contact between decision makers.”

She guaranteed the protection of Burmese migrant workers’ rights, which would also help them to contribute to the host country’s economy.

She said, “I recognize that we in [Burma] are responsible for our people here. We will never neglect them.”

Suu Kyi on Thursday went to meet with Burmese migrant workers from all over Thailand in Mahachai, Samut Sakhon province. Tens of thousands showed up to demonstrate their support for her and to share experiences of labor exploitation.

Her visit to Thailand has not all gone to plan. At Mahachi, she was permitted by Thai authorities to meet with less than 500 workers, leaving thousands disappointed. Also, her trip to the Tham Hin camp for Burmese refugees on the Thailand-Burma border in Ratchaburi province on Saturday was cancelled on the grounds of her security.

Job creation for refugee return

Despite being unable to visit the refugee camp, Suu Kyi stressed her appreciation of Thailand’s support to Burmese refugees over decades.

She said, “Of course, what we all want is for people displaced from our country to come back to us.” But, she said, it was not enough say to “come back”—jobs have to be created for them.

“Job creation is of the greatest importance for the country. On every trip I have been on in [Burma], people talk about the need for jobs,” she said.

“Our people want work. They don’t want charity. They want to have the opportunity of standing on their own two feet and feeling proud,” they said.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut said they had achieved “concrete results” on bilateral affairs, including the protection and promotion of the basic rights of Burmese migrant workers in Thailand, a three-year development cooperation framework (2016-18) for border areas, and issues of connectivity and economic cooperation.

They also touched briefly on Thailand’s continued support for Burma’s peace process, as well as the development of the Dawei special economic zone in Burma’s Tenasserim Division, which the leaders agreed would creates jobs and further connectivity (and which has received substantial Thai pledges of investment).

Kavi Chongkittavorn, a senior fellow at the Institute of Security and International Studies in Chulalongkon Univeristy, told The Irrawaddy that Thailand supports Suu Kyi’s peace initiative with ethnic armed groups in Burma—now branded the “21st Century Panglong Conference”—“but they agreed not to discuss the matter [during Suu Kyi’s trip] because it is too sensitive. Thailand, as you know, supports the peace process fully.”

Education key for Asean

On Friday morning, Suu Kyi , who is Burma’s Foreign Minister as well as State Counselor, met with the Thai Foreign Minister Don Pramudwinai, before giving a lecture to Thai students at the ministry office, which emphasized the importance of education.

During Suu Kyi’s lecture, “Myanmar, Asean and the World: The way forward,” she received questions on economic and social issues, drugs and Burma’s peace process, students told The Irrawaddy.

Sasicha Chaiphanonwit, an International Relations student from Chulalongkon University, said, “it was good to learn [Burma’s] policy on Asean.”

Over 200 Thai students from a variety of universities and some international students from Burma, Cambodia and Bhutan expressed clear excitement at meeting with Suu Kyi.

Mu Sel, a Burmese student from Rangsit University who attended, said, “She questioned us on what we want to be in in the future and how we can contribute, while talking about further connectivity and networking in the region.”

Kavi Chongkittavorn told the Irrawaddy that Thai-Burmese relations were of great importance to Southeast Asia. “For some 50 years,” he said, “Thailand did not have normal relations with Burma because of mistrust.”