News / Asia

Thailand Threatens to Deport 1 Million Illegal Migrant Workers

Migrant workers from Burma get off a fishing boat at a seafood market in the town of Mahachai, near Bangkok, Thailand, March 2010.
Migrant workers from Burma get off a fishing boat at a seafood market in the town of Mahachai, near Bangkok, Thailand, March 2010.
TEXT SIZE - +
Daniel Schearf
— Thailand is threatening to deport more than a million migrant workers, most of them from Burma, if they do not complete required documentation by a December 14 deadline. Rights groups say the nationality verification process, while aimed at providing legal protection, is being exploited by corrupt officials, brokers and employers to further abuse vulnerable migrants.

Thai authorities in charge of regulating migrant labor had pushed back previous deadlines for foreign workers to become documented.  

The employment department at the Ministry of Labor, however, is standing firm on a Friday deadline that, if enforced, could see one million or more migrants facing deportation.

Economic factors

Jackie Pollock directs the Thailand-based Migrant Assistance Program. She said that Thailand raising the nation's minimum wage  to about $10 a day beginning in January likely is hardening authorities' attitudes.

"I think that they don't want to encourage migrants to come to Thailand to get the minimum wage. So, I think they're afraid that there will be a new influx of migrants because the minimum wage in Thailand is so much higher than anywhere it is in Burma," said Pollock. "So, I think they're trying to look strict and severe on this issue and to pressure migrants to go back to their home countries to get documents and then only come in to the country legally."

There are an estimated 2.5 million migrant workers in Thailand. About 80 percent of them are from Burma and because of costs, corruption and porous borders, most are undocumented.  

They work in factories, orchards, fishing and construction, but their illegal status leaves them vulnerable to abuse by unscrupulous employers, corrupt police and officials.  

Nationality verification program

Thailand has sought to remedy their situation by working with neighboring countries on a nationality verification program, whereby they get temporary passports so they can easily renew work permits.

So far, about 900,000 have entered the program. But about 350,000 of those still are waiting for their documents, while more than a million either are unwilling or unable, and never started.

Migrant worker rights activists say the program is well-intentioned, but poor planning has turned it into a systematic corruption scam.

Andy Hall, a migrant specialist at Mahidol University's Migration Center, said brokers charge $600 or more to process the paperwork, costing months' worth of wages.

"So, whereas the migrants become legal through this process, the costs are very exorbitant," said Hall. "And, what we've seen is, we've seen a shift from like this informal corruption by police officers, who are shaking down workers, immigration officials and labor officials, who are taking money from workers. We've seen a shift from that to this irregulated broker system whereby brokers who are in charge of national verification process, who are in charge of issuing passports, are now getting money through these vulnerable migrants through these other means."

Vulnerable to abuse

Hall said many migrant workers are forced to borrow the money from their employers, leaving them in debt bondage amounting to forced labor.

The program also requires migrant workers to get support from their employers. Hall said some employers simply refuse because they prefer to keep workers unregistered, illegal, and therefore easier to exploit.

"There's too many employers in Thailand who don't want their workers regulated. They don't want their workers being issued passports because passports bring confidence, it brings freedom of movement, it brings a flexibility to the workers and a humanity to the workers that they never had before," said Hall.

Despite the abuses, there have been tangible benefits from nationality verification for migrant workers who complete the process. Documented workers get better access to education, health care, and the flexibility to live outside the workplace.  

Pollock said a recent Migrant Assistance Program survey shows, however, that conditions at the workplace, regardless of documentation, have not improved.

"Of the workers that we interviewed - 500 workers - only 30 percent of the documented workers said that there was fire protection equipment in their factories and none of them had been trained in what to do in case of fire," she said.

Securing migrant workers

Pollock said construction sites with migrant workers are easy to spot because, unlike their Thai counterparts, the migrants often do not get hard hats or proper shoes, and work on rickety scaffolding.

The last time Thailand attempted mass deportations of undocumented workers was during the late 1990s financial crisis. Re-registration of migrant workers quickly resumed, though, after complaints from Thai employers.

Pollock said it would be a surprise if authorities actually followed through with their threats this time. She said Thailand needs migrant workers and the nationality verification process would be slow.

"So, it's a minimum of three weeks and if there's hundreds of thousands of migrants doing it, obviously it's going to take several months," she said. "So, during that time, factories would close, fruits in the orchards would not be picked, the fish in the sea would not be caught. It would be a disaster for the Thai economy."

Thai authorities say, if necessary, they can rely on direct government-to-government agreements to secure migrant workers.

You May Like

Algerians Vote in Presidential Election

There were few media reports of protests and clashes around the country, but so far no significant violence More

Sharks More Evolved than Previously Thought

The discovery could “profoundly affect our understanding of evolutionary history” More

Pakistan Military Asked to Protect Polio Workers

Request comes as authorities say a Taliban ban on vaccinations in 2012 and deadly attacks on anti-polio teams have prevented thousands of children from getting inoculated More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Scott Johnson
December 13, 2012 12:30 PM
Another scam everyone should be aware of is the Amway Tool Scam. Google stoptheamwaytoolscam for more information.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid