Thai floods force 100,000 Myanmar migrant workers home

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SATURDAY, 19 NOVEMBER 2011

Asia-Pacific News (Bangkok) – Thailand’s devastating floods have forced nearly 100,000 Myanmar migrant workers to return home, raising their government’s concerns about declining remittances, international labour sources said Saturday.

Thailand’s Immigration Office at the Mae Sot border recorded 98,237 migrants returning to Myanmar between September 1-November 10, the International Organization for Migration said.

Floods swamped Thailand’s central plains and parts of Bangkok since last month, affecting at total of 21,257 businesses and some 834,995 employees, it said.

The disaster had an immediate impact on the migrant labour force, which numbers about 2 million registered workers from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia.

Thailand’s migrant labour registration process is complex. Only 600,000 registered workers have passports and permission to travel, while the remainder carry permits to work in designated provinces and are not free to travel.

There are also an estimated 1 million unregistered migrant workers who have neither passports or work permits.

Myanmar accounts for about 2 million registered and unregistered workers in Thailand, labour experts said.

The system leaves many workers prone to exploitation by border officials and job recruiters.

‘These people have to use border smuggling routes on the way out of the country and on the way back in,’ said Andy Hall, a migrant labour expert at Mahidol Migration Centre.

The going fees for Myanmar migrant workers at border points such as Mae Sot, 400 kilometres north-west of Bangkok, range between 12,000 to 15,000 baht (400 to 500 dollars), he said.

‘These people are going to face a huge debt,’ Hall said.

Myanmar’s government has shown a keen interest in legalizing and facilitating the flow of their labour force to Thailand.

‘On January 1, the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok will get a full-time labour attache to handle migrant issues,’ said Hall, who was invited to the capital Naypyitaw on Wednesday to brief the government on the migrant workers’ situation in Thailand.

‘Deputy Labour Minister Myint Thein said the migrant labour issue was one of the priorities for the government because they are generating so many remittances for the country,’ Hall said.

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