Many areas of Thailand continue to experience extensive flooding. These floods have impacted on hundreds of thousands of migrants working in Thailand. Many migrants impacted by these floods don’t currently posses identification papers as their papers were destroyed, lost in water or confiscated by employers. As a result, these workers remain in or are not able to travel outside of flooded areas and/or their registered provinces. Other migrants have had their employment immediately terminated once the flood waters arrived and many more had no choice but to return to Myanmar.
Extensive media reports, both domestic and international, have damaged Thailand’s reputation by painting a picture whereby the Thai Government has been portrayed as ignoring the plight of migrant workers such that they have had to return to their countries of origin. Migrants have mercilessly fallen victim to exploitation at the hands of brokers and traffickers. This situation reflects very poorly on Thailand as a country that is already high on the US State Department’s “watchlist” as a country failing to effectively combat human trafficking in persons.
As the floods begin to subside, large numbers of already exploited migrant flood victims are beginning to return to Thailand. It is becoming clear that these migrants are now once again falling victim to the same exploitation they faced when leaving Thailand as broker networks utilise the crisis situation to their advantage to exploit these workers. The State Enterprise Workers Relations Confederation of Thailand (SERC) and the Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN) therefore urgently make the following recommendations to concerned Governments to address this situation:
1. The Thai and Myanmar Governments should facilitate the legal entry and work of all migrants entering from Myanmar to Thailand at this time
The policy of both the Thai and Myanmar governments is to ensure that all workers from Myanmar enter into Thailand legally. As the flood waters subside, the Thai economy will need migrant workers for rehabilitation and recovery. Up to 100, 000 legally registered workers fell victim to the floods and had to leave the country. Both governments should therefore urgently ensure the legal import of these workers back from Myanmar to Thailand so as to genuinely respond to this situation and address abuse.
2. The Thai Government should urgently issue personal identification documents to all migrant workers in Thailand
Legally registered workers have permission to remain and work in Thailand. However, these workers for many years now have either not received their original identification cards or had these documents confiscated by employers or brokers. As the flood crisis has show, migrants fall victim to abuse and exploitation when officials inspect their documents or when they seek to replace lost documents but when they do not have their original identification documents with them.
3. The Thai and Myanmar Governments should urgently verify the nationality of all migrants working in Thailand
Most of the migrant victims of the recent floods were workers who had legally registered with the Ministries of Interior and Labour but who were not allowed, according to government policy, to travel outside of their province of registration. These workers were not able to legally leave flooded workplaces and homes or to legally return to Myanmar, as workers who passed nationality verification were able to do. This caused them to fall victim to abuse.
4. Remedies should be found to address the suffering of migrant flood victims
Migrant workers who passed the nationality verification process already have employment contracts but most did not receive any assistance from their employers following the floods. It is explicitly stated in standard migrant employment contracts that employers should however take responsibility for their workers at times of emergencies or natural disasters. The Thai Government should urgently find measures to assist all migrants in Thailand who have suffered during this flood crisis and ensure such assistance is provided into the future also.
SERC and MWRN hope that the above recommendations will be well received by all concerned governments and authorities and that positive action shall be taken and seen as a genuine response to migrant abuse by the international community and between Thailand and origin countries of migrant workers. Positive action to rectify the concerning situation that currently exists shall reflect well on all governments concerned. Such action will also ensure protection of migrant workers and contribute to the happiness and peace of all the societies concerned in the future also.