Fri 26 Feb 2010
Filed under: On The Border
Though the Thai government has extended the previous deadline of Feb. 28 to March 2 for migrant workers to go to local employment departments and agree to go through the national verification process with their home countries, the system is in chaos, according to Andy Hall, director of the Migrant Justice Programme (MJP).Speaking to The Irrawaddy on Friday, Hall said, “It is impossible that all migrants can get agreements signed by the second of March. The system is not clear yet. It is not a just system and it makes the migrants feel very insecure.”
Burmese migrants workers stand in line at a shrimp factory to weigh the cleaned shrimp on February 25, in Mahachai, Thailand. (Photo: Getty Images)
Suchart Sangurai, the chief analyst of unskilled migrants workers at the Office of Foreign Worker Administration (OFWA) in Thailand told The Irrawaddy his government would not issue work permits for migrants who did not apply for renewal and the form for national verification by the deadline, saying that registration is compulsory as it follows a cabinet resolution.
Under the national verification procedure, all registered migrant workers with work permits are required to go to local employment offices, give their names and identity numbers and sign agreements to undergo a national verification procedure. After they have done this the department will give them until March 31 to complete national verification, said Hall.
The Thai government has announced they will give two-year work permits to migrants who complete the nationality verification process, but those who fail to do so face arrest and expulsion.
On Friday more than one thousand Burmese migrants in Chiang Mai in northern Thailand went to the employment department to give their names and identity numbers, but it is estimated that about 1.4 million migrants from Burma, Cambodia and Laos will fail to sign the agreement by the new deadline, according to Hall, and about 80 percent will be threatened with forced repatriation.
Migrants seeking to work legally in Thailand must submit detailed biographical information to their home country authorities in order to complete the nationality verification procedure. Many Burmese fear for their safety and of repercussions against family members in Burma if they turn up at the military government offices to complete the paperwork.
Aie Lawi Mon, who is teaching migrant children in Mahachai said, “To get a two-year work permit I have to fill the nationality verification form. I do not feel it is safe to give my biographical details to the Burmese authorities.”
Speaking on the Australian Broadcasting Coorporation’s Radio Australia on Feb. 26, Jorge Bustamante, the UN special rapporteur on human rights of migrants said he was concerned the Thai government measures left out irregular migrants and represented a threat of “massive expulsions with the obvious consequences of violations of human rights.”
“Eighty percent of the migrant workers in Thailand are from Myanmar [Burma] and they are particularly at risk as they face ethnic and political conflict in their home country,” he said, adding that he had received complaints of imprisonment and torture.
While Cambodian and Lao authorities have sent their officials to Thailand to complete the process in previous years, the Burmese government wants all migrant workers to go to three border points within Burma—Myawaddy, Tachilek and Kawthaung—to complete nationality verification registration.
Rights groups say a lack of information and awareness about the national verification process as well as fears of insecurity regarding repercussions in their home country has resulted in many migrants workers choosing to avoid the process.
It is estimated that of 2-3 million Burmese migrants in Thailand, only 1,310,686 have registered as migrant workers. Many of the migrants are from ethnic minority groups, such as Mon, Karen and Shan, who have fled Burmese army oppression and human rights abuses, according to MJP.
Bustamante said the time period for registration was too short and migrants had not been informed of the process properly, saying that only 200,000 migrants have registered so far and that the deadline should be extended and proper language facilities extended for the different ethnic groups having to go through the process.
Bustamante said the cost of registration—estimated at about about 2-3 times the monthly salaries of many migrants—represents “a penalty that is way beyond the possibilities of the overwhelming majority of migrants.”
He said he has tried to contact the Thai government regarding his concerns but has received no response so far.