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Rights Groups Call on UN Secretary General for Urgent Investigation into Abuses Against Myanmar Migrants Deported from Thailand

Three rights groups in Thailand have today called on Ban Ki-moon, the United Nation’s (UN) Secretary General, to intervene to prevent further abuse of Myanmar migrants deported from Thailand. The UN Secretary General will visit Bangkok on Tuesday as a guest of the Royal Thai Government (RTG).

The State Enterprise Workers Relations Confederation (SERC), the Thai Labour Solidarity Committee (TLSC) and the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF) call upon the UN Secretary General to instruct related UN agencies to urgently investigate allegations of abuse committed against migrants deported from Thailand to Myanmar. The UN Secretary General should also press the RTG to ensure increased respect for migrant’s human rights and to allow UN experts to visit Thailand to assist in development of future migration policies.

SERC, TLSC and HRDF also today called upon the RTG, in advance of the UN Secretary General’s visit, to ensure transparent investigations into all migrant deportation abuse claims and punish those involved. The RTG should also urgently reconsider its migration policies more generally to ensure respect for migrant’s human rights.

Human rights violations against migrants deported from Thailand to Myanmar continue to be reported. Al-Jazeera reported how migrants deported to Myanmar are being sent to camps controlled by the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) where they must pay for their release before being smuggled or trafficked back to Thailand. The South China Morning Post (SCMP) revealed migrants are being sold to traffickers during deportations in waters between Southern Thailand and Kawthuang (Myanmar) and then returned to Thailand. Rights groups have demanded investigations into these allegations since July 2010 but no response has been evident and the abuses continue.

Background

Currently around 2 million low skilled migrants work in Thailand, making up around 5-10% of the labour force. More than 80% of these migrants are from Myanmar. For two decades these migrants received temporary permission to work in Thailand despite being smuggled “illegally” into the country due to absence of formal migration channels. The RTG recently began implementing a migrant regularisation process whereby registered migrants enter a Nationality Verification (NV) process to become “legal” despite their illegal entry. In addition, import processes are meant to ensure fresh migrants are brought in legally from neighbouring countries. The RTG insists these regularisation processes will decrease smuggling and trafficking in persons and increase migrant rights protection.

On 2nd June 2010, Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva signed a crackdown order impacting on over 1 million migrants, mostly from Burma, who did not enter NV by a 28th February 2010 deadline or who were undocumented and thus ineligible for NV. A Centre to Suppress, Arrest and Prosecute Alien Workers Who Are Working Underground was established to manage this ongoing crackdown with regional committees pooling police, army, navy and other officials. Last week, the RTG created a scheme whereby all migrants will have money deducted from their salaries to pay into a fund to pay for their own deportation if they don’t leave Thailand once their work permits expire.  

Regularisation strategies and an ongoing crackdown have opened up opportunities for systematic rights abuses against migrants and are not solving irregular migration challenges or guaranteeing increased rights protection. Media report that crackdowns are not proceeding in accordance with the rule of law and rights groups insist they are not supporting regularisation efforts. Reports allege migrants rounded up in crackdowns face extortion before being released to work again whilst employers are warned of inspections to ensure undocumented migrants are not arrested.

News reports show how arrested migrants from Myanmar (including children and women) are being deported by Thai officials into situations at high risk of trafficking, detention and torture. Al-Jazeera documented how migrants deported from Mae Sot in Western Thailand are sent to camps run by the DKBA. Here they are forced to pay for their release and then smuggled or trafficked back to Thailand. SCMP documented how in Southern Thailand migrants are deported on boats into waters between Ranong (Thailand) and Kawthaung (Myanmar). If migrants cannot pay for release they too are sold to brokers and smuggled or trafficked back to Thailand also.

In relation to the RTG’s complex NV process, practices have developed whereby migrants and employers must utilise brokers. Attempts to regulate extortionate costs charged by these brokers are ineffective. High fees paid to complete NV are being passed onto migrants who often have their passports unlawfully confiscated until they repay debts to employers. Freedom of movement for migrants becomes heavily restricted. Exploitation of migrants passing NV by employers and officials, particularly police, remains rife. 

Fees charged for legal migrant import from neighbouring countries remain unreasonably high. Brokers request between 8, 000 and 18, 000 Baht per worker from employers. Such fees result in passports being seized from migrants as employers guard against their absconding until all registration costs are deducted from workers’ salaries. Freedom of movement for migrants is thus heavily restricted. Migrants are forced to pay money to brokers in neighbouring countries to ensure their import into Thailand also. No systems exist to regulate such broker activities.

Although the RTG insists labour import is key to regularising migration in Thailand, alongside NV and deportation of migrants not entering NV, official statistics show how only 25, 000 Cambodian or Laotian migrants and only 500 Myanmar migrants were legally imported into Thailand since MoU’s were signed seven years ago.

Despite an ongoing migrant crackdown and due to low skilled labour shortages, recently the Ministry of Labour announced a new amnesty to allow undocumented migrants to register. Information regarding this policy remains unavailable whilst senior officials insist the Cabinet has not yet approved the policy. The RTG’s existing migration policies are unable to ensure Thailand’s demand for low skilled migrants is lawfully and humanely met.

Recommendations to the RTG

In advance of the UN Secretary General’s visit to Thailand tomorrow, SERC, TLSC and HRDF make the following recommendations to the RTG:

1.       The RTG should allow UN Special Rapporteurs on Migrants, Trafficking and Torture to visit Thailand to advise on means to address challenges faced by Thailand in implementing a migration policy that ensures both respect for the basic human rights of migrants and that labour demands are effectively met.

2.       The RTG should immediately halt its migrant deportation policy until thorough investigations have been completed to ensure an end to systems whereby deported migrants are falling victims to human rights abuses, including trafficking in persons and extortion. All those found to be involved in this unlawful conduct should be held to account whilst victims should be accorded all assistance as required.

3.       The RTG’s existing migrant arrest and deportation policy makes little sense given recent policy announcements to reopen migrant registration to address low skilled labour shortages. This policy is undermining incentives for migrants and employers to comply with future regularisation process and should be revoked.

4.       The RTG’s new migrant registration process should be devised and implemented with genuine participation from civil society, employers and migrants to ensure increased regularisation of migrants working in Thailand in the most convenient, effective and transparent ways. This will ensure increased adherence to the rule of law and protection of the fundamental human rights of migrants and their families in the future.

5.       The RTG should carefully re-consider how it can achieve its goal of encouraging import of workers into Thailand from neighbouring countries in the future in a way that upholds migrants’ fundamental human rights and prevents gross economic and other kinds of exploitation.

6.       The policy of the RTG to manage migration remains unclear and inconsistent such that failures to effectively manage migration in accordance with the rule of law continue, systematic corruption and illegality prospers and human rights of migrants are undermined. The RTG should prioritise planning of a long term migration policy to be implemented by an independent agency and supported by civil society, employer and migrant’s participation.

SERC, TLSC and HRDF believe the above actions would enable the RTG to manage its migration challenges in ways that respect the human rights of all migrants in Thailand whilst in no way negatively impacting on RTG’s economic and national security concerns. In contrast, a policy to arrest and deport migrants and the visible exploitation and human rights abuses involved serve only to harm Thailand’s economy, which remains heavily reliant on migrant labour. In addition, Thailand’s international human rights reputation continues to be tarnished by its failure to ensure protection of the human rights of migrants, particularly during its Chair of the UN Human Rights Council and given it will next month host the International Anti-Corruption Conference in Bangkok.

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