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Thai PM’s Meet with Myanmar President Must Produce Real Results for Exploited Migrants

By Migrant Worker Rights Network  •  October 8, 2014

For further information on this statement, please contact:

1.      U Sein Htay (President, MWRN): Yangon +95(0)9 4927 8500 (Myanmar/Thai)

2.      U Aung Kyaw (Vice President, MWRN): Mahachai +66 (0) 8675 55337 (Myanmar)

3.      Mr. Andy Hall (Advisor, MWRN):  Bangkok +66 (0) 846 119209 (English/Thai)

Tomorrow (9th Oct), Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha will officially meet Myanmar’s President Thein Sein in Naypyidaw (Myanmar) in an attempt to strengthen the positive relationship between Thailand and Myanmar. One issue that will be raised during this meeting concerns the situation of 3 to 4 million Myanmar migrants living and working in Thailand.

For almost 30 years, Myanmar citizens have entered into Thailand to search for employment. An estimated 1.7 million Myanmar people currently hold temporary passports; half a million temporary labour cards; and many more remain undocumented. These migrants are facing various serious challenges in Thailand that must be addressed by both Governments with urgency.

Thai labour law provides for equal treatment between migrant and Thai workers. However, migrant workers do not in practice access equal treatment. Migrants often lose their rights because of an undermining of the rule of law by some Thai government officials and the lack respect for the law by too many employers, brokers or agents. Migrant workers too often do not access: basic minimum wages; holiday leave according to law; compensation for work accidents; and compensation for unfair dismissals from work. In addition employers too often do not apply to the social security fund for migrant employees to ensure their effective access to healthcare. Too often employers or agents confiscate migrants personal identification/work permit documents.

Registration and temporary passport applying processes, including those undertaken since Thailand’s coup in May 2014, are far more costly than the official rate announced by the two governments as brokers allegedly working with corrupt government officials extort money from workers. Thai law enforcement officials frequently and unlawfully arrest and extort money from migrants, even those fully documented. Thai immigration officials allegedly and with impunity collect high visa renewal and 90 day reporting fees.

After arresting undocumented Myanmar workers, Thai officials often do not formally deport these workers to Myanmar but allegedly send to local armed Myanmar ethnic groups where local brokers then extort money for release. MWRN receives frequent reports of deported workers, particularly in Mae Sot/Myawaddy border areas, sold to Thai fishing boats or to sexual venues where they are forced as human trafficking victims to work as slaves.

Additionally, Myanmar migrants are too often falsely accused of crimes as serious as murder, theft and robbery without access to independent legal advice and/or efficient translators to ensure their basic rights as an accused in Thailand’s criminal justice process are upheld.

The best example of the systematic abuse of migrant workers is in Mae Sot, a border town in Tak Province on the Thai-Myanmar border where more than 200, 000 migrants reside. These migrants, working at hundreds of factories, agricultural establishments and in the services sector, have never benefited from basic rights under Thai law. Almost every worker doesn’t receive the 300 baht minimum wage but more likely only earns between 120 baht and 180 baht per day. Similarly appalling conditions exist on the border for migrants in Sangklaburi, Chaingrai and Ranong Provinces.

The above violations and systematic oppression have been suffered by migrant workers for 3 decades already. But the Myanmar and Thai government has never genuinely sought to address these abuses. Migrants find themselves with nowhere to go to seek effective remedies for these abuses.

The Thai and Myanmar governments in 2009 finally collaborated to implement a 2003 bilateral agreement to regularise Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand. More than 1.7 million temporary passports, visas and work permits were then issued. After becoming fully documented, migrant workers felt less suffering and were strengthened by their legal status. But still migrant worker exploitation has continued. Unfortunately, both governments agreed that regularised workers must leave Thailand after completing 4 years of work. In practice, both governments have breached this still unmodified bilateral agreement and many migrant workers remain in Thailand beyond 4 years.

Migrant workers whose 4 year passports and visas have expired have become scared, confused and fearful of arrest and extortion by Thai law enforcement and Myanmar border officials. Too many have been dismissed from their work without notice or compensation. In order to continue migrants stay beyond 4 years, both governments negotiated together and an unclear action plan was then announced. However, the processes agreed upon for migrants did not match the reality of the migrant situation. The joint plan is inadequate, unreasonable and will ultimately be unsuccessful in ensuring stronger protection and regularisation of Myanmar migrants.

The Myanmar government’s confused decision now to issue new permanent or regular passports to almost 2 million migrants to replace their existing temporary passports is irrational and unfair. It is difficult for ethnic minority migrants from rural areas to comply with rules for issuance of a regular passport as a national identity card and household registration are required. Until March 2014 only 1,000 people were able to apply for these permanent passports. More than half a million more migrants whose visas have expired have been left stranded. Almost 1,000 migrants’ visas expire every day.

In order to adjust to solving such systematic migration policy failure between the two governments, desperate employers and employees are discarding temporary Myanmar passports and applying for new government issued temporary work permits intended for irregular workers. This is unlawful and irrational as migrants have until 31stMarch 2015 to apply a regular passport whilst the workers also will lose 4 years social welfare benefits when they change their names and ID numbers.

As Thai and Myanmar leaders are meeting tomorrow, and in order to benefit migrant workers, MWRN (the Migrant Worker Right Network), on behalf of millions of Thailand based migrants, propose the following issues should be considered and addressed during this meeting:

1)      Myanmar should urgently abort its plan to require migrants holding temporary passports to apply for new regular passports and instead work with Thailand to extend duration of temporary passports and formulate effective cheap visa extension processes.

2)      Thailand and Myanmar should discuss how to ensure effective and increased access to basic labour and human rights provided under Thai law for all migrant workers in Thailand     

3)      Thailand and Myanmar should commit to a plan to effectively punish Thai and Myanmar brokers, agencies and corrupt government officials who continue to systematically exploit migrants with impunity 

4)     Thailand and Myanmar should ensure irregular workers arrested in Thailand be deported directly and legally to the Myanmar government 

5)      Myanmar should assign only embassy staff to the Thai Embassy in Bangkok who are willing to effectively and ethically work for the genuine benefit of Myanmar migrant workers without accruing personal benefits 


The Migrant Workers Rights Network (MWRN) was founded in March 2009 by a group of migrant workers from Myanmar in Thailand. To provide and protect migrant rights, education and social well-being, MWRN cooperates with International NGOs, Thai NGOs, the Thai government and the Myanmar government. Membership of MWRN is currently 3,886 workers

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This post is in: Press Release

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