Thai police detain 26,000 migrant workers from Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia

Thai police detain 26,000 migrant workers from Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia Cambodian migrant workers carry their belongings as they walk to cross the border at Aranyaprathet in Sa Kaew, June 15, 2014.
Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters

Thai police detained over 26,000 migrant workers from Laos, Myanmar and Cambodia during an eight-day operation in Bangkok and nearby provinces earlier this month, the Thai government said.

The crackdown was a reaction to an increasing number of complaints about an influx of illegal migrant workers, according to Adisorn Keudmeuangkhon of the Bangkok-based Migrant Working Group.

“Some Thai people see that many illegal workers are competing for their job positions in the past few months,” he said. “That’s why the ministry has to take tougher action.”

Civil war in Myanmar and the recent implementation of a military draft has sent thousands of Burmese into Thailand, while rampant inflation and inadequate job prospects in Laos have prompted a stream of workers from there, too.

All told, authorities detained and checked 20,111 workers from Myanmar, 1,659 migrant workers from Laos and 3,971 workers from Cambodia between June 5 and 12, according to the Ministry of Labor.

It came at the beginning of a planned 120-day effort to inspect work places and arrest illegal migrant workers, the ministry said.

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Myanmar workers wait before leaving Thailand at Mae Sot Immigration office in Tak province Thailand, July 3, 2017. [Chiravuth Rungjamratratsami/AP]

The undocumented workers face fines ranging from 5,000 to 50,000 Thai baht (U.S. $136 to $1,365), deportation and a two-year ban from re-entering Thailand, Keudmeuangkhon said. Authorities weren’t planning to bring criminal charges, he said.

Shopkeepers and servers

Authorities raided 1,774 workplaces, according to Moe Gyo, chairman of the Joint Action Committee on Burmese Affairs, which supports Myanmar labor issues.

The activation of conscription by the military junta has brought an increase in arrests of Myanmar nationals in Thailand who don’t have a work permit identity card, he said. 

The majority of Lao migrant workers in Thailand work as shopkeepers at fresh markets, restaurant servers and as sales people at malls, Keudmeuangkhon said. Most enter Thailand as part of ASEAN visa-free policy for tourists, but then stay past the 30-day limit once they find work.

“Employers like to hire Lao migrant workers in the service sector because they can speak fluent Thai,” he said.

It’s possible that the Thai Cabinet will approve an updated program for Thai employers to register their undocumented migrant workers in July or August, Keudmeuangkhon said.

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A Cambodian migrant worker from Thailand carries a sack loaded with his belongings to a truck as he returns to his homeland in Kampong Speu province, at a Cambodia-Thai’s international border gate in Poipet, Cambodia, June 18, 2014. [Heng Sinith/AP]

The Thai Ministry of Labor’s Foreign Workers Administration office reported last month that there are 268,465 Lao migrant workers legally working in Thailand.

Lao Minister of Labor Baykham Kattiya told Laos’ National Assembly earlier this month that there are 415,956 migrant workers working in other countries – mostly in Thailand.

The Lao government believes that about 203,000 people who work outside the country do not have legal work documents, she said.

But a Lao official who is familiar with the labor sector told Radio Free Asia, a news service affiliated with BenarNews, on June 20 that the number of illegal Lao migrant workers in Thailand and elsewhere is likely much higher.

“They go to other countries as illegal migrant workers through different types of methods – as tourists or students,” he said “Thus, it is hard for the immigration police to collect data on these people.”


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