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Thailand Threatened Migrant Worker Crackdown: Would Be Counter Productive and Lead to Gross Human Rights Violations

By Human Rights and Development Foundation  •  June 18, 2010

On 2nd June 2010, Thailand s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva issued an order setting up a Special Centre to Suppress, Arrest and Prosecute Alien Workers Who Are Working Underground. This centre will manage a crackdown against unregistered migrants in Thailand, most of whom are from Burma. Five Regional Working Groups will implement the crackdown by pooling strength of police, army, navy and other government officials. The order states the targets of the crackdown are approximately 300,000 migrants who failed to enter a Nationality Verification (NV) migrant registration process by February 28th 2010. An estimated 1 million plus unregistered migrants who are working in Thailand but were ineligible for NV will also likely become targets of this crackdown.

The Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF) strongly cautions the Royal Thai Government (RTG) against implementing this migrant crackdown policy as it could lead to gross human rights violations affecting more than a million highly vulnerable migrants, especially those from Burma s ethnic minorities. Experience shows migrant crackdowns lead to an increase in arrest, detention and extortion of migrants by corrupt government officials, as well as violence and even death in the ensuing chaos. This particular crackdown policy is premature, makes no sense economically and is unlikely to strengthen Thailand s national security.

HRDF publically calls on the UN Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants to urgently seek clarifications from the RTG on how this migrant crackdown policy would respect Thailand s international human rights obligations, particularly as a newly elected member of the UN s Human Rights Council. HRDF consider this policy a very disappointing start to Thailand s membership of this important UN body, particularly given the Government s specific membership pledges in May 2010 to protect the rights of minority and migrant groups.

Background

In 2009, over 80% of registered migrants in Thailand (or 1.1 million persons) were from Burma. They face ethnic and political conflict as well as continuing economic desperation in their homeland, which is controlled by a military government. In 2003, Thailand and Burma agreed to a NV process in which registered Burmese migrants who left Burma illegally and entered Thailand illegally would return to Burma to verify their nationality. These migrants would then be issued temporary passports enabling them to return to work legally in Thailand. RTG set a deadline of 28th February 2010 for registered migrants to enter NV, after which it ordered no future migrant worker registrations renewals. Unregistered migrants were ordered to leave Thailand or be arrested and deported.

·  Around 90,000 Burmese have so far completed NV

·  Around 800,000 Burmese applied for NV and have until 28th February 2012 to complete the process

·  Around 300,000 eligible Burmese missed the 28th February 2010 NV deadline and are now unregistered

·  An estimated 1 million plus Burmese were excluded from NV and remain unregistered

·  Thailand economy continues to be dependent on an estimated 2-3 million unskilled migrants

RTG s NV policy, however well-intentioned as part of commendable efforts to regularise its growing migrant labour force, has been implemented with no genuine consideration for human rights. Instead, threats of mass deportation have been highly visible, only registered migrants are eligible for the scheme, unregulated brokers continue to charge exorbitant fees and government led public awareness efforts have been weak. Burmese migrants violated Burmese government law by leaving their country illegally but are being pressured during the NV process to submit their biographical information to Burma s military government. This naturally continues to cause deep angst amongst migrant communities fearing retaliation by the Burmese government against them and their families.

On 18th February 2010, the UN s Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants issued a public statement expressing strong concerns about Thailand s NV policy and urged restraint regarding threatened deportation of large numbers of migrants back to neighbouring countries, particularly Burma, after the 28th February 2010 deadline.

Migrant workers in Thailand work in the most dangerous and lowest paid jobs, contributing 6 to 7 percent of Thailand s GDP and making up 5 to 10 percent of its workforce. Despite this, Thailand continues to lack a long-term strategy for managing migration effectively. Presumed nationality security concerns and short term economic imperatives are prioritised over respect for migrant s human rights. In national security terms, threatened crackdowns against migrants are to be expected, but in economic terms, if genuinely implemented would lead to extensive labour shortages in Thailand s booming economy.

RTG stated this new migrant crackdown policy is intended to remove all migrants refusing to enter into or who were ineligible for NV from the country so as to regularise its migrant labour force by allowing only two categories of migrants to work here in the future: (1) Migrants who illegally entered Thailand but have or will soon complete NV to become legal ; and (2) Fresh migrants who will soon be brought in from neighbouring countries legally .

However, this crackdown is worryingly premature as no evidence shows systems in place to bring fresh migrants in from Burma to replace an estimated 1 to 1.4 million migrants who are currently unregistered, cannot now enter NV and are being threatened with deportation. In addition, future government to government labour export/import systems, utilising unregulated brokers and managed by a Burmese junta that continues to be complicit in forced labour, would require monitoring systems set up to protect against human rights violations that are not yet in place.

Recommendations to the RTG

HRDF hereby makes the following recommendations to the RTG:

1.      RTG should urgently revoke its crackdown policy on unregistered migrant workers in light of its international human rights obligations and as a newly elected member of the UN Human Rights Council

2.      RTG should urgently open a new registration process to allow an estimated 1 to 1.4. million currently unregistered migrants working in Thailand to register and enter the NV process

3.      The Ministry of Labour (MoL) should carefully re-consider how it can achieve its  goal of encouraging formal labour imports into Thailand from neighbouring countries in the future in a way that upholds migrants fundamental human rights and prevents gross economic and other kinds of exploitation

4.      MoL should urgently regulate services by existing brokers assisting migrants and employers with NV given that regulation of these brokers remains ineffective and fees remain too high

5.      RTG should start interactive discussion to find permanent solutions for migrants who cannot complete NV

6.      RTG should start interactive discussion on how to sustainably manage all aspects of migration in the country in a balanced way that promotes both Thailand s sustainable development and respects the human rights of migrants. This interactive dialogue should lead to a long term Migration Strategy Plan for Thailand.

HRDF believe the above actions would enable the RTG to manage its irregular migration challenges in ways that respect the human rights of all migrants in Thailand whilst in no way negatively impacting on RTG s economic and nationality security concerns. In contrast, a policy to crackdown on migrants serves only to harm Thailand s economy, which remains heavily reliant on migrant labour, as well as Thailand s international human rights reputation. More importantly, experience shows crackdowns mean migrants fall victim to gross exploitation as they are forced underground and corruption prospers. In the long term, Thailand s nationality security is thereby reduced.

For your additional information, an official translation in English of the Prime Minister’s order related to this statement is also attached.

·    Mr. Somchai Homlaor (HRDF s Secretary General): +66 818 995476 (Thai/English)

·    Mr. Andy Hall (Consultant to HRDF): +66 846 119209 (English/Thai)

·    Mr. Hseng Htay (HRDF s Migrant Justice Programme): +66 830 139736 (Burmese/Thai)

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This post is in: Press Release

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