Thai Prisons Crowded with Illegal Myanmar Migrants

By The Irrawaddy 23 May 2022

Prisons in Thailand are crowded with detainees from Myanmar who have illegally crossed the border because of junta persecution and to find work.

Hundreds are being detained each day but Myanmar’s regime has limited the number of deportees, leading to overcrowding at Thai prisons.

Between 60,000 and 80,000 illegal migrants were detained last year after the February coup and around 12,000 more were detained from January to April this year, according to the Thai Border Patrol Police.

Some 200 undocumented migrant workers were reportedly detained by mid-May.

Undocumented migrants previously faced by 45 days in custody and a fine of 8,000 baht (US$233) which was halved if the detainees pleaded guilty.

However, since COVID-19 the Thai authorities have imposed harsher penalties to control infections with illegal migrants facing 10 years in jail and five years for those who harbor them.

Recent detainees are only being given one year in prison due to overcrowding, according to migrant workers’ groups.

Myanmar’s regime only allows 400 detainees to be deported per week at Myawaddy’s Friendship Bridge in Karen State, citing COVID-19.

More than 2,000 migrants are being held in crowded prisons in Tak Province near the border.

U Min Oo of the Foundation for Education and Development in southern Thailand: “Large numbers are being detained. Since the junta has limited returnees, migrants are put on a waiting list to return. The junta says it cannot diagnose and quarantine the returnees. Thailand wants to send them back.

“Some have been in prison for up to eight months. They suffer from depression and some attempt suicide. Many feel unsafe in Myanmar and the fear combines with the problems of being in prison,” he said.

Food is limited in prison and the Thai authorities have asked labor rights organizations to help.

A deportee, who asked for anonymity, said: “The Thai authorities provide us with two meals a day. It is not enough. Children face many hardships. Except for the food and shelter, the Thai police treat us well.”

Ma Su Hlaing Tun, joint secretary of the Burma Labour Center, which has been helping detainees, said she saw 400 to 500 migrants in Phop Phra, southwestern Tak, being held in very bad conditions.

“They need food and water. They are packed like sardines in a small, abandoned building waiting to be repatriated,” she said.

“The numbers being detained are higher than the numbers sent back,” she added.

U Aung Kyaw, chairman of the Migrant Workers Rights Network in Thailand, said: “COVID-19 is not new. [Myanmar’s regime] should have prepared for returnees. It is Myanmar’s responsibility to take back its citizens.”