Thai police launch migrant crackdown

Burmese migrants in western Thailand who lack legal permits to work in the country are being rounded up by police, despite Bangkok readying for a major programme to register foreign workers.

One migrant in the Thai border town of Mae Sot estimated that around 150 Burmese had been arrested every day over the past week, with crackdowns also being launched in Mae Ramat, Phop Phra, Tha Song Young and Tak townships.

The central government has ordered a hiatus on arresting the millions of illegal or semi-legal migrants in Thailand between 15 June and 14 July, when the registration process will take place. Moe Gyo, coordinator of the Thailand-based Joint Action Committee for Burmese Affairs, believes the crackdown may be a means to pressure migrants to apply for legal status.

Up to three million Burmese are estimated to be working in Thailand, either legally or illegally, accounting for some 90 percent of the country’s total migrant labour force. The month-long window beginning on 15 June will effectively be the last chance migrants have to register before they risk arrest and deportation.

Rights groups hope the programme, which will cost employers up to THB3,800 ($US125) for health insurance and annual fees for each worker, will strengthen limp and malleable laws surrounding migrant workers’ rights in Thailand.

Moe Gyo said that the majority of Burmese in Tak province flitted from job to job, with less than 100,000 holding steady positions in factories. Those that worked in the construction industry or farming often lacked the veil of protection that regular employment offers, and thus were being targeted by police.

Once the 14 July deadline is up, any employer that is found hiring migrants without a permit may be fined up to THB100,000, while the migrants themselves could face a five-year jail term.

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