Thousands of Myanmar Migrants Return from Thailand

By Khin Oo Tha 30 June 2017

CHIANG MAI, Thailand — Thousands of illegal migrant workers from Myanmar have been returning to the country amid a crackdown by Thai authorities.

The migrants have flocked to the Myawaddy-Mae Sot border and other border checkpoints along the Thaungyin River—known as the Moei River in Thailand—since Thai authorities began arresting illegal migrants on June 22, said U Moe Gyo, chairman of Mae Sot-based Myanmar Citizens Affairs’ Committee.

“Thai authorities should not make immediate arrests after imposing new labor laws. Myanmar authorities should also open counters at the border checkpoints to warmly welcome back our citizens. Most of those who have fled from Thailand are now disheartened,” U Moe Gyo told The Irrawaddy.

Locals from the Myanmar border town of Myawaddy told The Irrawaddy they had joined immigration officials, police and local authorities in welcoming back those migrants who crossed the border on Thursday.

Thailand’s government has made a stream of arrests of illegal migrants since it introduced changes to its labors laws on June 20, pushing many to return to their native countries.

Under Thailand’s previous labor laws, illegal migrants were imprisoned for 48 days and then deported to their native countries. But the new amendments carry the possibility of a five-year jail sentence and a fine, according to the migrants.

The majority of illegal migrants in Thailand are Myanmar; others are Cambodian and Laotian among other nationalities, according to the International Organization for Migration.

Thai media reports state thousands of illegal migrants have been arrested in a move heavily criticized by Thai businessmen and politicians, who argue that it has affected Thailand’s productivity, said U Kyaw Thaung, chairman of the Myanmar Association in Thailand.

“It has caused controversy in Thailand. Some politicians have warned that it could result in the collapse of the Thai economy. Thai businessmen have asked the government to reconsider its move as it threatens the country’s manufacturing industry,” said the chairman.

U Kyaw Thaung said he hoped that a meeting between Thai and Myanmar labor officials on Friday in Naypyitaw would deliver good results for Myanmar illegal migrants in Thailand.

Rights groups in Thailand urged the Myanmar government to arrange for its citizens who are working in the country illegally to return through the border, stressing that many of them have already fled raids by Thai authorities and left their belongings behind.

The Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok also told Myanmar workers who are holding passports, pink cards or temporary passports to apply for work permits with their employers.

According to the embassy, there are about 4 million Myanmar migrants in Thailand and about 1.7 million of them have work permits.

The Thai government plans to deport all illegal migrants from the country by 2018.

Translated from Burmese by Thet Ko Ko.