Saturday, January 23, 2010

Thailand: New Thai Work Permit Rules

While we are occupying with the happening of Haiti Earthquake, the new work permit rules planned by the Thai government, come really at the wrong timing. It come at the time when the world is having attention on Haiti. But the impact on the Burmese refugee, illegal and IDP who are potential illegal migrant or legal refugee, are great in negative way. The new National Verification Programme which will seek to register the millions of migrant workers currently in Thailand.

The following is the posting from the news:

Burmese Migrant Workers Fear New Thai Work Permit Rules

by Ron Corben , Bangkok, dated 21 January 2010

Burmese migrant workers in Thailand fear new immigration and work permit procedures will make life harder for them and their families back home. Thai authorities say the new procedures will curb illegal migration but rights activists say the measures threaten the migrants' security.

The Thai cabinet has recently ordered migrant workers to verify their nationality to qualify for work permits.

The new guidelines cover over one million legal Burmese migrant workers in Thailand, as well as more than 200,000 workers from Laos and Cambodia.

Under the guidelines announced Tuesday, migrant workers must begin the new work permit procedures by February 28th or risk deportation.

The Thai government says the new rules are meant to control the flow of illegal migrants, now estimated to number three million. Panitan Wattanaygorn, a government spokesman, says the influx of illegal migrants has reached a critical stage.

"I think the situation is very critical had they not begun to implement this kind of policies or procedures," he said. "So the National Security Council sees this as a major concern for Thai security and they want to implement the law. But the law has to be adjusted so they have come up with this new proposal because we need foreign workers in Thailand," he said.

Thailand has long relied on migrant workers, who usually take tough, low-paying jobs in the construction, farming and fishing industries.

The government has been talking with officials in Burma, Laos and Cambodia since 2004 on ways to clarify the status of migrant workers.

The Lao and Cambodian governments agreed to send officials to Thailand so their nationals could verify their nationality without leaving the country.

Officials in Burma, also called Myanmar, refused to send staff to Thailand. Instead, Burmese workers must go to registration offices just across the border to complete the process.

Thetis Mangahas, a migration expert with the International Labor Office, says while a comprehensive migration policy is necessary, the new rules trouble Burmese workers.

Mangahas says the workers worry about how the information they provide will be used.

"There are individuals who are in real fear about providing information that might cause the government of Myanmar [Burma] to retaliate or to take action against the families. So you have a very complicated situation here and it's really as a result of policies which have not been thought through," said Mangahas.

There are reports that when a worker files the paperwork to start the new process, Burmese officials use the address to harass families for additional taxes.

Joseph Serrani is the foreign affairs coordinator with the Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma, an organization that offers training courses for Burmese migrants. He says the workers have little confidence in the Burmese government's national verification policy.

"Because of the past experiences of the government in Burma and the way they have treated their people most migrants see this as another opportunity for the government in Burma to exploit them further. So most migrants see this as an opportunity for the Burmese government to regularize them, somehow tax them," he said.

Na Bamoom Maha works as a nanny in Bangkok. She fears being sent back to Burma.

She says if the migrant workers fail to go through the verification process it may result in a crackdown against illegal and undocumented migrant workers. She says her family in Burma says if she cannot stay with a work permit, she should return home.

There also are risks with crossing the border. Young women, for instance, can become victims of human traffickers. Other workers may be forced to pay bribes to get the paperwork done. Some workers fear losing their jobs because they have to take time off to go to the border.

Migrant rights workers say some Burmese may go underground, rather than risk crossing the border.

The new rules also mean new costs for migrants - up to two month's wages. They have to pay for the new documents and the trip to the border, and often have to pay fees to the labor brokers who get them jobs.

Debbie Stothardt is with the activist group the Alternate ASEAN Network, which campaigns for political reforms in Burma.

"It is ironic and it's tragic that the lowest income earners doing the dirtiest, dangerous jobs are actually being forced to go through this process which is expensive and far too complicated," she said.

Despite the complaints of rights activists, the Thai government remains determined to implement the new guidelines. But experts on migrant labor in the region say the policy could be counterproductive, by driving more migrants to work illegally and putting them at risk of abuses by unscrupulous employers.


The Burmese are going to face very tough time with the new rule. Most of them may not willing to go back and face the life under Junta government; at the same time if they are sent back their life may be in danger as most of them support the freedom and democracy movement. They are in real dilemma....

It is hope that UNHCR is working hard to provide them refugee status, so that they can legally work in Thailand. The most worry is still the IDP, who crossed the border to seek work, and return frequently and illegally to their home country. Some of the poor families may be adversely affected.

The tribal people are borderless people, they have no strong identity to the concept of nationalism; the land is their country, their nation. They have been there since ancient time, and they cross the rivers, hills, and borders as they like. Their culture and livelihood will be affected. Is is fair to the natives, if the law restrict their movement?

It may be good for Thailand, but it will be disaster for the Burmese families, especially the minority tribes. It is time UNHCR and ILO come quick with the solution; we do not want the repeat of the incident like Hmong from Laos.......

Otherwise a underground market will be ready for these people; who will face more danger and human right abuse by corrupted government officials and criminal gangs.

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