Migrant passport deadline extended

Jan 18, 2010 (DVB), Thailand's labour ministry has extended the deadline for Burmese migrant workers to apply for temporary passports that grant them legal status in the country, the ministry website said.

The news was announced after it emerged that the Burmese government were taking longer than expected to process identification for the nearly one million registered migrants in Thailand.

Is it thought that Thailand hosts up to three million Burmese migrants, although it was predicted that the majority would not return to their home country to go through the application process.

Moe Swe, general secretary of migrant group Yaung Ni Oo, based in Thailand's Mae Sot, said that only around 10,000 migrant workers applied for passports within the first eight months of the programme, adding that it was impossible for Burma to process one million people within eight months.

"The Burmese government previously said officially that they could only process about 600 people in one year," said Moe Swe. "A lot of migrants tend to not go back to their regions in Burma to get the passports due to fear of being extorted, blackmailed by the authorities."

He added that the low number of migrants applying for passports could also be related to the cost of the process.

"The official fee for passport processing with the Burmese government is only 3000 kyat [$US3], and then 500 baht [$US15] to Thailand for a two-year visa. So it's only about 600 Baht in total [$US6]," he said.

"But because the process is very slow and difficult to go through, the migrants have to go through broker agents and via companies linked with the Burmese government who charge around 5000 baht [$US150] for each migrant.

"Also the migrants are to go for [annual] medical check-ups [in Thailand] when their migrant identification cards expire in February and pay for new health insurance which costs them around 1900 baht [$US58]. And they have to renew their work permits for 1800 baht [$US54]."

According to the Thai Labour ministry website, the Burmese embassy in Bangkok has said that Burmese nationals of any ethnicity, except from the Rohingya, are welcome to return to Burma for the passport processing. The ethnic Rohingya population in Burma is denied any legal status by the ruling junta.

Reporting by Min Lwin

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