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Some 1000 residents of Thailand’s southern town of Ranong are protesting the government’s granting of driving licenses to Burmese migrants.
Protests began on Tuesday in the town, which has become a hub for migrants crossing over from Burma in search of work. The demonstrators, mostly motorcycle taxi drivers, argued that issuing the licenses would encourage a greater influx of Burmese, who could take the taxi jobs from local drivers.
The licenses were granted to migrants who had enrolled in Thailand’s nationality verification programme, which encourages migrants to return to their country of origin to register as legal workers, before returning to Thailand.
Htoo Chit, director of the Grassroots Human Rights Education (GHRE) group said the protesters’ rationale was groundless and that it was the right of Burmese workers to own driving licenses.
“This is one of the fundamental rights of the migrant workers – they have temporary [migrant] passports and are permitted to work legally in Thailand so [the government] issuing them driver licenses is just a normal thing,” he said.
“None of the [concerns raised by the protesters] will happen just because the Burmese migrants are getting the licenses. We believe that the Thai government has the capability to handle drug and crime issues.”
A Burmese migrant in Ranong said that the driving licenses will “save us from being bullied” and having their motorbikes, which are purchased under a Thai name, from being confiscated by police.
The Thai government, starting in mid-March this year, has allowed Burmese migrant workers carrying temporary passports to apply for the driver licenses. The migrants who don’t have the passports and only have labour cards are allowed to buy vehicles, but they cannot apply for licenses.