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Around 100 ethnic Mon migrants from eastern Burma were detained in Thailand’s Sangkhlaburi district on Monday after illegally entering the country.
A Mon resident at the Thai-Burma border said that the migrants crossed the border into Thailand from Phayathonsu (or Three Pagodas Pass) in Karen state, close to Mon state, to look for work.
“They attempted to go past Sangkhlaburi by travelling on foot through the jungle and were caught by Thai police and the army,” said the resident.
The arrested were 40 men and 63 women, all residents of Mon state’s Mudon, Moulmein, Thanphyuzayat and Kyeikmayaw townships. The resident said that the migration of people from Mon state into Thailand to escape harsh living conditions in Burma has now become a “tradition”.
“It’s hard in Burma and jobs are not as good as in Thailand. Normally [migrants] go back to visit their villages around the time of Thingyan [annual water festival in April] and then return to Thailand afterwards,” he said.
“Leaving to find jobs in Thailand has become a tradition here. Thailand has better living standards and facilities.” He added that there are hundreds of thousands of Mon migrant workers in Thailand.
Figures on the total number of Burmese migrant workers in Thailand are not clear, but estimates range from two to three million. Despite widespread flouting of labour rights, average wages for migrant workers in Thailand are normally higher than the $US220 average annual salary in Burma.
The majority of these work in low-income industries such as fishing and construction, while their lack of legal status makes it hard for them to access education and healthcare. The Burmese government announced in November last year that Burmese nationals living abroad would be required remit half their salaries through a state-owned bank, which would likely be taxed.
A recent agreement between the Burmese and Thai governments to register migrant workers in Thailand came under fire largely because it required migrants to return to Burma to be registered by authorities there. Migrant rights groups warned that those who returned could face intimidation by government officials.
Last week hundreds of Mon refugees fled to the Halockhani camp on the Thai-Burma border after a Mon ceasefire group rejected proposals by the Burmese government to transform into a border guard force. The furore surrounding the border guard issue holds the potential to destabilise many of Burma’s already volatile border regions.