Burmese workers in Thailand fear getting drafted under new visa restrictions

Thailand’s Labor Ministry is requiring migrant workers to return to Myanmar to extend their stay.
RFA Burmese
Burmese workers in Thailand fear getting drafted under new visa restrictions Migrant workers from Myanmar test the quality of monitors as they work on a TV assembly line at a factory in Bangkok, July 22, 2019.
Soe Zeya Tun/Reuters

Burmese migrant workers in Thailand worry that a new visa policy requiring them to apply for an extension of their stay from Myanmar will expose them to conscription into the junta’s military forces, according to aid groups.

Under the People’s Military Service Law, enacted by the junta in February, men between the ages of 18 and 45 can be drafted, after junta forces suffered battlefield defeats to rebel forces. 

The announcement triggered a wave of killings of administrators enforcing the law and drove thousands of draft dodgers into rebel-controlled territory and neighboring Thailand. 

In April, the Thai Labor Ministry announced that workers from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos working under a government visa sponsorship program would have to return to their home countries to extend the terms of their four-year contracts when they expired.

Ye Min, with the Aid Alliance Committee, which assists Burmese workers in Thailand, confirmed the new visa requirements in an interview with RFA Burmese. 

He said he believed Myanmar’s junta had requested the policy as part of its conscription drive.

“Normally, workers can renew their books in Thailand, and work at their same workplace – they prefer this system,” said the aid worker, who is also a leader of the Migration Health Assessment Center.

“However, they now have to return home for an extension after they have worked in Thailand for four years due to pressure from the Myanmar junta.”

Myanmar migrant workers enter Mae Sot, a border town of Thailand under the MoU system via the Myawaddy township of Kayin state, May 11, 2022. [Myanmar Labor Attache Office via Facebook]

Ye Min noted that many Burmese migrants in Thailand were supporting or actively participating in Myanmar’s anti-junta movement. He suggested that the junta may have pressured Bangkok into making the new requirements part of a bid to “cut supplies and support to the rebellion.”

A migrant who works at a chicken-processing plant in Lop Buri, Thailand, told RFA on condition of anonymity that two groups of workers from Myanmar at his plant had already returned home after their contracts expired.

“[The contract] of another group of Myanmar workers is set to expire on June 13 or 14 and they will be sent home,” said the migrant, who declined to be named due to security concerns.

“About 26 workers have already returned home in two groups. It is estimated that hundreds of thousands of workers will have to go back.”

Returnees at risk

On May 1, the junta activated the mandatory military services law and its labor ministry announced that young men would no longer be allowed to work abroad.

Kyaw Ni, the deputy labor minister of Myanmar’s shadow National Unity Government, or NUG, told RFA his administration had requested that the Thai government allow Burmese migrant workers to continue working inside the country without having to return home.

Attempts by RFA to contact the junta’s labor ministry and the Myanmar Labor Attache Office in Bangkok about the new requirements went unanswered Friday.

The Aid Alliance Committee’s Ye Min said it was extremely risky for migrant workers to go back to Myanmar.

“It’s not easy to re-enter Thailand within one or two months, so it’s a very risky system for repatriated workers,” he said.

Aung Kyaw, of the Thailand-based Labor Rights Foundation, told RFA that his group had also called on the Thai government to allow the migrant workers to continue living there on humanitarian grounds.

“The migrant workers will be forced into conscription if they are in the age range,” he said. “The junta is on the attack both day and night, so the lives of these migrant workers are at risk in the country.”

On May 1, in observance of World Labor Day, labor groups rallied in Bangkok to demand that workers be allowed to apply for extensions to their four-year work contracts from within Thailand.

RFA Burmese, part of Radio Free Asia, a news organization affiliated with BenarNews, produced this report.


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Hto Doh
May 31, 2024 11:01 PM

Thank you everyone for standing for a free Burma.