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Arbitrary arrests of Burmese migrant workers continue happening in Chiang Mai, with many saying that the Thai police would only release them after a “protection fee” was paid.
Chiang Mai, located in northern Thailand, has been home for many years to thousands of Burmese migrants. Since the military coup earlier this month, Thai security police have been conducting random raids around the city and detaining people without identification cards. Despite these reports, the new ruling junta has denied that any “crackdown” against undocumented migrants is taking place.
On Monday, eight Burmese migrants in Chiang Mai’s night bazaar were nabbed by plainclothes policemen. Making up a large percentage of the workforce at the popular Chiang Mai market, Burmese migrants are often subjected to arrest by the police due to irregularities in their documents or work permits.
Thein Dan, who was among those detained, said he was freed shortly after he was taken to the Central Police Station because he has been paying a daily protection fee to a man with alleged police connections who came to secure his release.
“We were taken to the police station in the old city where the man who I have been paying the ‘protection fee’ came to get me out,” Thein Dan said, adding that three more were bailed out by their employer on Tuesday.
In a separate case on Monday, more than 40 Burmese migrants were rounded up in a police raid at the Pratunam Wholesale Market in Bangkok. Ko Naing, one of the workers detained, said that he and a few others were released after paying the police 2,500 baht each (US$77). He also said that the hotline numbers provided by the Burmese embassy for these types of situations were unhelpful.
“After getting arrested, I phoned the Burmese embassy and they asked me to come over to them,” Ko Naing said. “But how am I supposed to do that if I am under arrest?”
In an attempt to “clarify” three raids conducted last week in the border town of Mae Sot, Thai military, police and government officials on Tuesday called a meeting with local migrant rights organisations. They said that the raids were not an effort to crack down on migrant workers, but were, in fact, to target human trafficking and drug smuggling.
More than 1,000 Burmese migrants have been arrested since 10 June. The arrests, as well as the rumours of a violent crackdown on migrants, have also caused a mass exodus of more than 170,000 Cambodian migrant workers as of Tuesday.
Rights groups said that workers in southern Thailand’s Phuket, Ranong and Phang Nga provinces have all been advised by their employers to go into hiding in the woods or rubber plantations to avoid arrests.