Burmese migrant workers, together with Thai labour activists and unionists, have petitioned the Thai government and the UN to extend the 28 Feb deadline for nationality verification.
On 16 Feb, about 200 Burmese migrant workers, Thai labour activists and unionists went to the Bangkok office of the UN and Government House.
According to a Cabinet resolution on 19 Jan 2010, migrant workers are required to complete the nationality verification process by 28 Feb 2010, in order for them to continue to work in Thailand for two years. Those who miss the deadline will be deported.
The Lao and Cambodian governments have agreed to send officials to conduct the nationality verification process in Thailand, but the Burmese government requires Burmese migrants to return to their country and undergo the process using one of 12 agencies endorsed by the Burmese government.
The workers and activists presented a letter addressed to the Prime Minister at Government House; an official from the Prime Minister’s Office came out to receive it.
The letter, signed by migrant workers, labour unionists and activists from over 60 organizations, called on the government to stop the deportation plan for migrant workers and reconsider the nationality verification process.
Wilaiwan Saetia, Chairperson of the Thai Labour Solidarity Committee, said that there were 1.4 million Burmese among 2 million migrant workers in Thailand. So far, only 400,000 had completed the nationality verification process, and hundreds of thousands were expected to be deported after 28 Feb.
In addition to calling for an extension of the deadline, they asked the government to regulate private agencies to stop them overcharging migrant workers in the verification process, and to negotiate with the Burmese government to allow the verification process to take place in Thailand, in order to make it easier, less expensive, safer and more attractive for migrant workers.
They also asked the government to allow a new registration round, so that more migrant workers can enter the verification process. Migrant workers who are granted work permits should be also allowed to change employers to prevent abuses.
Sawit Kaewwan, Secretary-General of State Enterprise Workers’ Relations Confederation, believed that migrant workers wanted to enter into the verification process, but the process must be safe and efficient.
‘These migrant workers contribute to Thailand’s development. Large-scale deportation will adversely affect the Thai economy, and also tarnish Thailand’s reputation,’ Sawit said.
To start the process, Burmese migrant workers have to submit their personal information to the Thai authorities to be forwarded to the Burmese authorities, and they must return to Myanmar to apply for temporary passports in order to return to Thailand legally.
According to Adisorn Kerdmongkol, an activist on migrant labour, during the one year that the Thai government has operated the verification process, only 10% of Burmese migrant workers have participated. If the remaining 90% do not meet the 28 Feb deadline, they face deportation and the problem of illegal migrant labour would be aggravated.
He said a survey showed that 20% of Burmese migrant workers were not aware of the verification process at all, and over 50% learned of it second-hand. The already expensive 4,000 baht fee required by the Labour Ministry has increased to 6,000-12,000 baht charged by the private agencies.
The Thai government has yet to address the issue of over 200,000 Rohingya, Karen, and migrant workers from Tavoy, who are afraid to enter the process for fear of persecution by the Burmese government, Adisorn said.
Earlier in the morning, the group had presented a letter of concern over the security of the migrant workers to representatives of the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) and the International Labour Organization at the UN Bangkok office.
On the same day in Chiang Mai, another group of migrant workers and activists also petitioned the Governor of Chiang Mai against the deportation of migrant workers.