Since December 2008, the Royal Thai Government (RTG) has increasingly stressed its policy that migrant workers from Burma currently in Thailand must enter a nationality verification process (NV). NV is apparently required to change migrant’s status from persons who illegally entered Thailand to persons who are legally resident here, as well as to allow migrants to legally work and receive legal protection equal to Thai persons. Despite RTG having set a 28th February 2010 deadline for migrant workers to complete this process, most of these workers from Burma, as well as their employers and most of civil society, continue to be greatly confused by and/or unaware of the nature of the NV process and its complex 13 steps.
On 15 November, 2009, the Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN), an organisation made up of migrant workers from the Samut Sakorn area, with support from HRDF’s Migrant Justice Programme, organised a seminar entitled “Benefits and Challenges of Nationality Verification for Migrant Workers from Burma” at Wat Pomvichian Chotikaram, Ampur Muang, Samut Sakorn Province. More than 350 migrant workers participated in this seminar. Speakers at the seminar were: Mr. Wanchai Saakhonmanirat, Samut Sakorn Employment Office; Ms. Wandii Siibuaiam, Advisor to Samut Sakorn Fisheries Association; Ms. Sirigon Lirtchayothit, Raks Thai Foundation; Ms. Masan Sanmoo, a migrant worker who completed the NV process with a broker; and Mr. Arthi Akhai, a migrant worker who completed the NV process without a broker. The meeting was presided over by Mr. Surapong Kongchantuk from the Lawyers Council of Thailand.
During this meeting, the panel of speakers exchanged views on as well as explained the NV process. This allowed migrants who attended the meeting to understand the process much better than they previously had done. During the final part of the meeting, migrant participants had an opportunity to ask questions about NV and exchange views on their confusions or worries relating to the process. Most migrants commented on their lack of confidence in the Burmese Government’s style of working, which is the main reason why NV is proceeding so slowly. Participants also expressed concern and confusion about taxation policies of both the RTG and the Burmese Government for migrants who have completed NV. In addition, migrants discussed rumours that have been spreading within their communities; concerns about the overall high costs of completing the process; general confusion over exactly what the 13 steps of the NV process are; and concerns that there did not seem to be a clear policy by the RTG to address the status of children of workers who complete NV.
During the closing session of the meeting, when asked whether they would take part in the NV process or not, more than 90% of the participants said they agreed with NV and were willing to enter the process. However, participants pleaded with the RTG to immediately launch a more meaningful NV information dissemination campaign, given they and their communities continue to be confused by the details of the NV policy.
This meeting’s conclusion sharply contrasts with discussion in a similar meeting on NV held in Chiangmai on 9th November 2009, hosted by the Workers Solidarity Association (WSA) and the Migrant Workers Federation (MWF), and also supported by HRDF’s MJP. At the close of this meeting, almost all 250 Shan migrant workers in attendance rejected the existing NV process and instead demanded the Burmese Government allow NV to take place in Thailand.