Thailand toughens migrant measures

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Photo by: Christopher Shay
Thai border police stand guard at the Cham Yeam international border crossing between Cambodia’s Koh Kong province and Thailand’s Trat province last year.

We allow them to work, but they have to apply for
registration first.

Phnom Penh Post
THAILAND has announced a series of measures designed to target migrant workers who have failed to comply with a controversial registration process implemented earlier this year – a group that includes about 43,000 Cambodians, according to statistics provided by a Bangkok-based human rights organisation on Thursday.

The measures were outlined in a June 2 order signed by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva, and include the establishment of a “special centre to suppress, arrest and prosecute alien workers who are working underground”, according to a translation of the order supplied by the Human Rights and Development Foundation.

In addition to the centre, the government will establish working committees tasked with investigating migrant workers in five different geographic areas covering all of Thailand’s 75 provinces, the order states.

Andy Hall, director of HRDF’s Migrant Justice Programme, said the order marked a more forceful approach to the enforcement of Thailand’s nationality-verification process, wherein migrant workers were to submit documents to their home governments in order to secure new work permits in Thailand.

“We haven’t seen anything quite so organised like this before,” he said Thursday. “This time, there’s no way for migrants to comply – there’s no registration process open, there’s just a threat.”

The deadline for complying with the nationality verification process was March 2.

According to HRDF figures provided later that month, there were 124,902 Cambodian migrant workers eligible to participate. HRDF figures indicate that 81,601 took part, so 43,301 could be subjected to the new enforcement policies.

But because the policies also target workers who lack the documentation necessary for eligibility, it is likely that thousands more Cambodian migrant workers could be targeted.

There were an estimated 1 million undocumented migrant workers from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia, according to HRDF, who could not provide country breakdowns for that group.

Hall said that with the new policies in place it is unclear what will happen to migrant workers who are rounded up.

“They say they’re going to ‘suppress, arrest and prosecute’. They usually say they will deport, but this time there is no mention of deportation,” he said.

“We’re quite surprised at the policy. The government’s policy is very strong: It’s threatening and punitive.”

Supat Guukhun, deputy director general of the employment office at the Thai ministry of labour, said Thursday that there was no way for migrant workers who missed the March deadline to register without first returning to their home countries to apply through legal channels.

“We allow them to work, but they have to apply for registration first,” he said.

Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn could not be reached for comment Thursday, nor could spokesmen for the Thai ministry of foreign affairs.

Koy Kuong, a spokesman for the Cambodian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, said the two countries have a memorandum of understanding in place that allows for Cambodians working illegally in Thailand to be sent back.

“According to an MoU, Cambodian embassy officials can work with the Thai authorities to send them back to Cambodia,” he said. “We would welcome them back.”

He added that he did not yet know the specifics of the new enforcement policies – the details of which are not spelled out in the June 2 Thai government order – and thus could not say for how long workers could be detained at the “special centre” or in other Thai facilities.
“This is an internal regulation of Thailand,” he said.

In what appears to be one of the first mass arrests carried out under the enforcement policies, a raid on Wednesday in Mahachai, in Thailand’s Samut Sakhon province, netted a total of 145 illegal migrant workers – 30 from Cambodia, 103 from Myanmar and 12 from Laos, according to a translation of a Thai news report provided by the Migrant Justice Programme.

The workers were said to have been detained, and it was unclear how they would be processed, with the report saying only that officials would “proceed with them according to the law”.

Hall said Thursday that he was not aware of any other arrests, but that the MJP would be monitoring the situation closely. He added that comprehensive enforcement of the government’s new policy could well turn out to be unfeasible, as it would result in the loss of a vital part of the Thai workforce.

“The economy is quite dependent on migrant workers from Cambodia, Burma and Laos, so we don’t think it’s realistic,” he said. “There is no system now except for new legal arrivals.”

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