Human rights activists call for Government's clear policy on migrant workers in Thailand

On 18 Jan, human rights organizations and activists send a letter to Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva for concerns over the issue of migrant workers in Thailand, the Burmese in particular, as their permits will expire in January and February, while the nationality verification process has proved to be ineffective and risky for the migrants.

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Open Letter of Concern for the Safety and Security of Migrant Workers in Thailand

URGENT

Monday 18th January, 2010

 

To: The Honorable Prime Minister Mr. Abhisit Vejjajiva

We, the undersigned, continue to be concerned for the safety and security of over 2 million migrants from Burma, Cambodia and Laos currently working in Thailand. We are particularly concerned for the situation of migrants from Burma who account for approximately 90% of all migrants in Thailand, face unique and challenging situations in their homeland, and make up almost all of the 61,543 migrants whose permission to stay in Thailand ends on Jan.20th 2010.

Most migrants from Thailand’s neighbouring countries entered Thailand without documentation but have for many years been granted permission to work temporarily, pending deportation, by the Royal Thai Government (RTG). This permission has always been extended yearly due to recognition that migrants are filling important gaps in the Thai labour force and strengthening the Thai economy. 

However, according to a Dec. 2008 Cabinet resolution, for the first time since their entry into Thailand, migrants must now go through a Nationality Verification (NV) process to confirm their nationality in order to remain in Thailand after their existing work permits expire in 2010. NV is apparently required to ensure the formalisation of existing “irregular” migration channels between Thailand and its neighbouring countries. The date of Feb. 28th 2010 is the RTG’s deadline for migrants to complete NV, even as the process continues to experience considerable challenges. Migrants from Burma make up around 90% of all workers who must complete NV yet less than 10,000 have so far completed the process.

There has been limited public awareness raising both for employers and migrants of what NV is about and what are its benefits. NV is too expensive for most migrants and brokers remain unregulated. Migrants continue to have understandable fears for their and their family’s safety as they must provide personal information to complete NV. In particular, migrants from Burma must submit detailed biographical information to Burma’s military government amidst widespread rumours that officials are starting to tax their families in Burma and NV is related to the 2010 elections. Unlike migrants from Laos and Cambodia, migrants from Burma must return to Burma to complete NV. Finally, there are 1.4 million workers to complete NV by Feb. 28th 2010 yet systems are working slowly. NV Centres in Burma are processing no more than 200 workers per day at 3 locations, such that NV cannot be completed in such a short time. 

We are now concerned that some of the 61,543 workers mentioned above, whose work permits expire on Jan. 20th 2010 and who are the first group of migrants to encounter the NV deadline, could be deported in accordance with previous government statements warning of the mass deportations of migrants who refuse to go through the NV process. Most of these workers have not even started NV and many are refusing to do so. 

Given the significant impacts of the NV process on the lives of these workers, we feel the RTG’s policy both on allowing migrants to renew their work permits in 2010 or extending the Feb. 28th 2010 NV deadline is unsatisfactorily vague. There is currently no uniform practice in renewing work permits of migrants that expire on Jan. 20th 2010 in the different provinces of Thailand. We observe that the RTG migration policy currently does not seem to be proceeding in accordance with the rule of law. 

In order to address our concerns and ensure increased understanding by civil society groups, migrant workers, employers and government officials concerned, we request your government’s urgent consideration and response to the following questions: 

1. What is RTG’s policy on extending the right to stay and work in Thailand for the group of 61,543 migrants whose work permits will expire on Jan. 20th 2010 but who have not yet completed NV, have not yet expressed their intention to enter into the NV process or who are not taking part in NV? In addition, what is the legal basis for this policy? 

2. What is RTG’s policy on extending the right to stay and work in Thailand for the 1.4 million migrants whose work permits will expire on Feb. 28th 2010 and who have not yet completed NV, have not yet expressed their intention to enter into the NV process or who are not taking part in NV? In addition, what is the legal basis for this policy?

3. Is it the RTG’s intention to support the Dec. 21st 2009 resolution of the Alien Workers Management Committee (AWMC) to allow only those migrants who are willing to enter into the NV process to extend their work permits for another 2 years? If so, when will the RTG’s mass deportation of migrants who are not taking part in NV begin? 

Given the unresolved challenges faced by the NV policy implementation, we would be most concerned if the RTG decides to adopt a policy to not renew work permits and deport migrants (and their dependents in Thailand) who refuse to go through the NV process. 

We believe the management of migrant workers in Thailand should be undertaken only by fully taking in account the priorities of your government, the economy, and most importantly the fundamental human rights of those migrant workers concerned. 

We hope that there will be a speedy statement from your government enunciating a clear policy in response to our questions listed above. 

 

Yours respectfully.

 

Cc: 

1. Chairperson, Alien Workers Management Committee

2. Secretary, National Security Council 

3. Chairperson, National Human Rights Commission 

4. Minister of Labour

5. Minister of Interior 

6. Minister of Foreign Affairs

7. Ministry of Industry

8. Commander of the Office of Immigration

9. Chairperson, Senate Sub-Committee on Labour and Social Welfare

10. Chairperson, House of Representatives Sub-Committee on Labour

11. Chairperson, National Economic and Social Advisory Committee

 

Support Signatories

1. The Human Rights and Development Foundation (Thailand) (HRDF)

2. Human Rights Watch (New York)

3. The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

4. Migrant Forum in Asia (MFA)

5. The State Enterprise and Workers Relations Confederation (SERC)

6. Thai Labour Solidarity Committee (TLSC)

7. Altsean-Burma

8. Building Wood Workers International (BWI) Asia Pacific Office (Apolinar Z. Tolentino)  

9. Migrant Working Group (Thailand) (MWG)

10. Action Network for Migrants Thailand (ANM)

11. U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), Thailand

12. Union for Civil Liberty (UCL)

13. National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB)

14. International Transport Federation/Thailand

15. International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine General Workers' Unions/Thailand

16. Public Services International/Thailand

17. Women Workers Unity Group

18. Labour Rights Promotion Network (LPN)

19. Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma (TACDB)

20. Migrant Assistance Program (MAP)

21. Thai Allied Committee for Desegregated Burma (TACDB Foundation)

22. Campaign Committee for Human Rights (CCHR)

23. Rangsit and Area Labour Union Group

24. Mekong Ecumenical Partnership Program (MEPP)

25. Christian Conference of Asia (CCA)

26. Stateless Watch for Research and Development Institute of Thailand (SWIT)

27. Foundation for AIDS Rights (FAR)

28. Asian Institute for Human Rights (AIHR)

29. Friends of Women Foundation

30. Cross Cultural Foundation (CCF)

31. Tvoyan Women's Union (TWU)

32. Women Network for Advancement and Peace

33. Think Centre Singapore

34. Singapore Working Group on ASEAN

35. Chin Students Union

36. Help Without Frontiers

Dr. Kritaya Archavanitkul (Institute of Population and Peoples Studies, Mahidol University)

Ekachai Pingkaew

Davidson Solanki

Binayak Das

Ms.Sopin Jirakiattikul (UFR-Sciences Economiques, Montpellier, France)

Associate Professor. Dr.Phunthip Saisoonthorn (Faculty of Law, Thammasart University)

Ms. Jittimart Suksai (Thammasat University Student) 

Sor Rattanamanee Polkla (Asian Legal Resources Centre/Asian Human Right Commission)

Lily Purba, Indonesia

Mr. Laosfang Bunditthedsakun 

Lance Woodruff

Sunee Chaiyarose

Christopher Hyram Bowles