Thai police arrested about 1,200 migrant workers, most of them Burmese, in a raid on a market area in Thailand’s Samut Sakhon province early on Wednesday, the Thai News Agency (TNA) reported.

TNA said the police raid followed reports of an influx of 70,000 illegal Burmese migrants to the Gulf of Thailand province, where many seafood businesses are located.

The TNA report said a 700-man police force raided a shrimp market, seafood processing and frozen seafood factories and nearby homes, all within a 5 km radius.

The official in charge of the operation, Police Maj-Gen Suchart Muenkaew, said the raids had been launched in response to a report in a local newspaper of an influx of illegal alien workers to the area.

Thirty infants and two Burmese monks were among those detained by the police. The monks said they were visiting relatives and administering to local Burmese residents.

TNA said that although Thailand’s Department of Employment had registered 70,000 migrant workers with employment licenses, the police believed the number to be “suspiciously high,” leading the authorities to believe that documents had been forged.

Raids and arrests were also reported from Mahachai province and the Thai-Burmese border town of Mae Sot. Thai labor rights workers said more than 100 migrants, including monks, had been arrested in Mahachai province. Many others had escaped into the surrounding countryside, they said.

A source in Mae Sot said more than 200 illegal migrants had been caught there and sent back to Burma. Police checkpoints had been set up in Mae Sot and on main roads leading to the town.

Moe Swe, of the Mae Sot-based Yaung Chi Oo Burmese migrants’ organization, said the arrests were a cause of “big concern.”

A Burmese researcher at the Labor Rights Promotion Network said his organization was particularly concerned about the plight of children who faced being deported to Burma. “They might not know where to go and how to survive,” he said.

The current crackdown follows a recent claim by Thailand’s former army chief, Gen Sonthi Boonyaratkalin, now a deputy minister of national security, that the country’s 2-3 million illegal migrant workers represented a social problem and a threat that needed to be addressed, particularly in the province’s Mahachai district. He said he would be going to the area to inspect the situation at firsthand and seek a solution.

Apart from his government responsibilities, Gen Sonthi is chairman of Thailand’s National Foreign Workers Administrative Committee.