2 volunteer teachers and tourist from Myanmar arrested in Pattani

Pattani authorities have raided a classroom to arrest two Myanmar volunteer teachers and one tourist who was merely observing the class. Authorities said teaching as a volunteer without a work permit constitutes an offence, since receiving a meal is a form of reward. 

On 15 August 2018, officials from the Pattani Immigration Bureau, the Fourth Army Region, the Tourist Police and the Department of Employment raided the Laem Nok Monastery, Bana Subdistrict, Mueang District, Pattani Province, to arrest two female Myanmar migrant workers who had been providing unpaid teaching to more than 80 children of migrant workers. 

The authorities accused the two workers, Than Than Myaing, 43, and Nyein Moh Hlaing, 25, of working without a permit and instructed them to sign a document, written in Thai, which they did not understand. The two were fined 5,000 baht in lieu of imprisonment. A Myanmar tourist, Htein Lin Aung, 34, who observed the teaching, was also arrested on the same charge. 

They were due to be deported on Monday (20 August 2018) and will be banned from re-entering to work in Thailand for two years. However, their lawyer opposed the deportation so the authorities have detained them at the Pattani Immigration Bureau.

The police case report states that the authorities informed the three about their rights before asking them to sign a document confirming that they pleaded guilty, adding that all documents and conversations were translated by a Myanmarese, Thitar Oo, 31. 

However, Thitar, an advisor to the learning centre at Laem Nok Monastery, argued that the authorities did not inform the three of their rights, and did not even read the case report. The authorities merely asked the accused to sign the document.

“[The authorities] just asked them to sign without telling them what rights they have in this case. Sign, pay the fine and then go to the police station,” Thitar said. 

He tried to convince the police to scrap the prosecution, saying that the two worked on a voluntary basis without pay. But the authorities refused, reasoning that the meals the two volunteer teachers ate at the monastery constituted payment. 

“I followed and asked what they have done wrong. Is being a volunteer wrong? They said yes. Eating the monastery's food is wrong. Compensation, even though it’s not money, is wrong”, the advisor added.

After the incident, the Migrant Working Group (MWG) and the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF) released a joint statement condemning the arrest as an illegal operation. The statement pointed out that one of the workers’ employers testified to the police that the worker is lawfully employed and had asked to take leave from her regular boat-painting job since she is heavily pregnant. 

The monastery has also reaffirmed that the two teachers taught on a voluntary basis while the tourist was only observing the class.
“The operation was evidently illegitimate and unjustified. It has caused unnecessary trauma to the children in the classroom who had to witness their teachers being arrested and taken away in front of them while leaving both parents and volunteer workers gripped by a wave of fear and anxiety. 

“The operation could signal a strong discouragement to other similar teaching programmes in the country and could also have a negative impact on education opportunities for migrant children as a whole. Without safe access to learning for hundreds of thousands of migrant children, as a result of one erratic action by a group of officials, Thai government’s positive efforts in eliminating child labour and human trafficking could be trampled,” read the statement. 

According to MWG and HRDF, the Laem Nok Monastery has been running a learning centre for children of migrant workers for more than four years. The teaching first started after the community realised that migrant children, who are often left without care when their parents go to work, are vulnerable targets of forced labour, human trafficking and other forms of exploitation. 

With support from community fund-raising, the monastery committee had dedicated a learning space in the monastery for children aged 4-14 to provide them with opportunities to develop their potential, to learn about the languages and cultures of Thailand, as well as their countries of origin. While local businesses helped provide food costs and teaching tools, the teaching itself requires the support of unpaid volunteers and local college students. 

The volunteer teaching program continues with the awareness and approval of government officers and various local government agencies including the Provincial Governor, the District Officer, the Provincial Public Health Office and professors at Prince of Songkhla University, Pattani Campus.

Migrant Working Group and Human Rights and Development Foundation’s demands:

1. The Provincial Immigration Office in Pattani Province must abandon the plan to deport the two workers and the tourist and must release them immediately

2. The Royal Thai Police must set up appropriate and clear procedures for raid operations and the arrest of migrant workers in accordance with the Royal Decree on Administering the Work of Foreigners B.E. 2561; and ensure that their rights in the judicial system are respected including the right to pre-trial bail and to right to legal counsel.

3. The Department of Employment, Ministry of Labour, must: 
- Establish clear guidelines to ensure standardised measures in inspecting compliance on work permits and the right to work prescribed by law
- Review the policy that restricts migrant workers from becoming paid or unpaid volunteers