Suu Kyi to Meet With Migrant Workers During Thailand Visit

By Tin Htet Paing 6 June 2016

RANGOON — Burma State Counselor and Foreign Affairs Minister Aung San Suu Kyi will meet with Burmese migrant workers in Thailand during her visit to the country in late June, according to the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.

Kyaw Zeya, a director-general from the foreign affairs ministry, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that specific itineraries have yet to be finalized; the two countries’ officials are still hashing out the details for the three-day visit scheduled from June 23 to 25. Suu Kyi will reportedly visit the fishing town of Mahachai in Samut Sakhon, which is home to a large Burmese migrant worker community.

“In promoting mutual relations and cooperation between our two countries, Burmese migrant worker issues also play an important role,” Kyaw Zeya said.

“She will go and meet them in order to hear their experiences and the difficulties they are facing,” he added, regarding Suu Kyi’s trip.

Kyaw Zeya also said that Suu Kyi has plans to visit Thailand’s refugee camps, but he was unable to confirm further details. Zaw Htay, the President Office’s spokesperson, declined to comment on whether President Htin Kyaw would join Suu Kyi on the trip.

A Thailand-based migrant workers’ rights activist, Andy Hall, told The Irrawaddy on Monday that the visit would be a dual opportunity for Suu Kyi to tackle the issue of migrant worker exploitation in Thailand and to keep a promise she made during a visit to Mahachai in 2012.

Suu Kyi’s 2012 trip to Thailand was her first outside of Burma after being released from house arrest, under which she was first placed in 1989. During this visit, she vowed to help Burmese migrant workers once she was in a position to do so.

“This time, she would go back to Mahachai. [I think] she wants to keep her promise to the migrant community,” Andy Hall said. “I think Suu Kyi will be trying to push the Thai government to give more training [to migrant workers] to increase [their] skills so that they can come back home to [Burma] and help build the country’s economy.”

Sein Htay, president of the Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN), said that Burmese migrant workers in Thailand believe that Suu Kyi will take the issue of migrant worker exploitation seriously, given her powerful position in Burma.

“Burmese migrant workers hope that she will help to improve legal protections for them, something that needs to be addressed urgently,” he said.

Sein Htay also emphasized the importance of skills training and the need for access to education and healthcare for migrant workers and their children, and how these issues need to be worked into long-term plans between the two countries.

According to MWRN’s estimation, there are some 3 million Burmese migrant workers in Thailand.