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A Burmese human rights organisation has filed what is claimed to be the first ever formal complaint against Thai police for their alleged role in extorting Burmese migrant workers in Thailand.
The complaint was lodged at the Royal Thai Police Headquarters on Monday after gaining support from the Burmese embassy in Bangkok, activist and reporter Kyaw Thaung told DVB on Thursday.
Kyaw Thaung, director of the Myanmar Association in Thailand (MAT), said the complaint was directed at the local police in Mahachai, near the Thai capital, based on reports that they had detained and extorted money from four Burmese migrants, who carried legal work permits, on 10 October.
The MAT initially consulted with the Thai Lawyers Council and anti-human trafficking groups about the case but was told it was legally impossible for a civil society group to file such a complaint without support from the Burmese government. The group then approached the Burmese embassy in Bangkok which “willingly” offered its assistance.
Kyaw Thaung said police-led abuse and extortion of Burmese migrants in Mahachai has been a concern for many years, but most workers are too afraid to file formal complaints or act as witnesses in court.
“The police in Mahachai have been abusing Burmese migrants for a long time – they often arrest and extort Burmese migrants on accusations of dealing drugs by using shopping lists found in their pockets as ‘evidence’,” said Kyaw Thaung.
“We have both photo and video footage of the abuses and previously consulted with lawyers and our affiliate organisations about making a formal compliant but they said it would be unfeasible for us, as a civil society group, to file it as the Thai authorities are involved in the case and suggested that we approach the Burmese embassy for assistance.”
Burmese migrant workers in Thailand are still denied basic rights and are regularly subjected to abuses by their employers and the police, despite repeated pledges by the government to improve conditions.
“In theory, Burmese migrants who carry legal passports have the right to travel freely – exactly like their Thai counterparts,” said Kyaw Thaung. “But in reality the migrants are forced to pay (US$3) 100 baht at each of the nine highway checkpoints between Bangkok and Mae Sot.”
He added that the MAT had acquired video footage documenting the Thai police extorting money from migrants at checkpoints, which they sent to the Burmese government and NGOs in Thailand over six months ago, but without response.
In June last year, the Thai authorities in Tak province, near the Burmese border, imposed travel restrictions on legally registered migrant workers. The Migrant Assistance Progamme described it as a coercive strategy aimed at preventing Burmese workers from seeking better employment conditions in other parts of the country.
Migrants in Thailand make up about five percent of the county’s workforce, and provide a crucial pool of labour for low-skilled, often dangerous, industries such as fishing and construction. Up to three million people, or about 80 percent, are estimated to come from Burma.