Imminent Thai deportation condemned

The Thailand-based Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF) has condemned the imminent deportation of what they estimate could be as many as 1.5 million workers.

The deadline for migrant workers to apply for temporary passports under the nationality verification process (NVP) scheme passed yesterday and as such the Thai deputy minister for labour, Mr Supat Gukun has stated in the Thai press that they “will not be lenient” and that the authorities will attempt to deport them.

There are thought to be around 1.3 million registered migrant workers in Thailand. Of that total 700,000 applied for the (NVP) before the deadline.

There are however many more who are unregistered, who would not have been eligible for the national verification process in the first place.

If the 600,000 registered migrants who failed to complete the national verification process are added to those unregistered migrants, Mr. Andy Hall, Director of HRDF’s migrant justice program estimates there is a total of 1.5 million migrants who may be deported.

The Thai government gave them until the 2nd of March to register with the NVP or face deportation but several NGOs have questioned the morality and even legality of sending Burmese back to their homeland given the human rights situation in the country.

“If the Thai government were to deport these people back to Burma it would be in breach of international human rights law, it would be in breach of the principle of non-refoulment” added Mr. Hall.

It has also been alleged that if 1.5 million workers or a large number of migrant workers were deported it could have a negative impact on the Thai economy: “Migrant workers make up 5-6% of the Thai workforce and contribute between 6-7% of Thailand’s GDP according to the ILO, so if you were to deport these people it would have a huge effect on the economy”.

Additionally pointing out that not only do migrant workers punch above their own weight but they take the most dangerous, demanding and least desirable jobs in the economy.

Thailand has been trying to regulate its labour market and the Thai Foreign ministry said that; “the Royal Thai Government is well aware that it needs to take into account both the enforcement of the immigration law and the respect for human rights.”

Further adding that; “Since 2008, Thailand has implemented the Employment of Foreign Workers Act B.E. 2551 (2008).  Under this law, a migrant worker, after having applied for a work permit, will be entitled to basic rights such as access to adequate remuneration and health care.

“Also, generally, migrant workers who are lawfully registered to work in Thailand are entitled to the same rights as Thai workers in accordance with the Labour Protection Act B.E. 2551 (2008)”.

Many migrant workers had complained about the difficulties in applying to the NVP which would have regularised them.

Amongst the complaints was cost, the language barrier (all the forms and process being in Thai without translations or translators) and the time was considered too short from announcement to deadline.

Human Rights Watch had previously been highly critical of the NVP, corroborating that it was expensive and difficult for migrants to complete.

Further more DVB earlier reported on the difficulties that Burmese migrants would have in proving their nationality; a prerequisite of applying to the NVP.

Meanwhile the State Enterprise Workers Relations Federation (SERC) stated in a press release today, that; “Thailand’s denial of work accident compensation from the Social Security Office’s (SSO) Workmen’s Compensation Fund (WCF) to migrants from Burma breaches its obligations as a signatory to ILO Convention 19”.

The Thai government had been claiming that as those seeking the benefits had entered Thailand illegally they were not eligible. But the ILO recently ruled that this should not exempt applicants, as according to Mr. Hall “workers are workers”.

“We believe that migrant workers are subject to systematic and pervasive discrimination in Thailand at all levels of the process” continued Andy Hall, echoing SERC’s claims.

Reporting by Joseph Allchin