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Cambodian, Burmese Workers Face New Challenges in Thailand


Burmese migrants, illegal workers use boat to cross Moei River bordering town of Myawaddy, Burma, visible in the background, to Mae Sot, Thailand, March 21, 2012.

Burmese migrants, illegal workers use boat to cross Moei River bordering town of Myawaddy, Burma, visible in the background, to Mae Sot, Thailand, March 21, 2012.

The coup in Thailand is causing problems for hundreds of thousands of migrant workers from neighboring Cambodia and Burma, also known as Myanmar.

Along the Burmese border, workers say Thai security forces have shut down illegal crossing points, stranding many who cross back and forth for work in Thailand.

Without the ability to go home, those without proper work permits now have to stay on the Thai side longer than before and face the possibility of arrest.

Tuesday in Mae Sot, about 200 migrants were arrested by the Thai immigration and the police.

One migrant worker, who did not want to be named, told VOA's Burmese service that everyone who was taken away was in Thailand illegally.

Police came in early in the morning and arrested all people, including the children. They also came with soldiers and immigration officials. There were about 20 to 30 vehicles, including the police. About 200 adults and children were arrested. They all are undocumented people.”

Meanwhile, the Labor Attaché at the Burmese Embassy in Thailand, Thein Naing, told VOA the visa extension process has resumed for legal Burmese migrants.

"We started issuing [passports] at the border. We have also opened a branch in Bangkok. If there are complete documents, the Embassy in Bangkok will work to issue [the passports]."

Things are also difficult for Cambodian workers. Ya Navuth, executive director of Caram Cambodia, said undocumented workers in Thailand may not know about the closed borders and could be arrested when they try to cross back.

“Especially undocumented workers who have no knowledge of the issue,” he said. “When they travel at night, they could face arrest.”

Ya Navuth appealed to Cambodians considering traveling to Thailand for work to delay their plans. He urged the Cambodian Embassy in Thailand to continue to get information to the provinces, where Cambodian laborers work.

Cambodian Embassy in Thailand Councilor General Ros Serey recommends Cambodians in Thailand avoid traveling.

“There is no guideline from the ministry of foreign affairs, but whoever calls me or meets other diplomats, we normally advise them to remain calm, stay at one place, and refrain from committing anything against their laws to avoid problem.”

Migrant worker Oeun Samorn confirmed there are potential problems.

“I had some difficulties and have been very careful when traveling,” he said.

An estimated 400,000 Cambodians work in Thailand, while more than a million Burmese are believed to be working in the country.

Thailand’s military tightened the borders when it took control of the country last month.

This report was produced in collaboration with the VOA Khmer and Burmese services. Men Kimseng reported from Washington.
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