Thai police nab migrant flood victims

Burmese migrants escaping flood-hit areas of Thailand are being arrested by Thai police as they near the Burmese border on charges of travelling outside of their permitted zones, several have reported.

Nearly 115,000 people have already been made homeless by Thailand’s worst flooding in half a century, which coincides with flash floods in Burma that have taken more than 200 lives. Bangkok residents are fleeing in droves as the government warns that the city’s defences cannot cope with the encroaching waters.

One Arakanese migrant worker who escaped from Bangkok to the border town of Mae Sot told DVB that following the closure of factories in affected areas around the capital, thousands of Burmese headed north in a bid to cross back into Burma. Upon arrival in Mae Sot, a number were arrested.

“Migrant workers were getting arrested by the police in Mae Sot and fined money for not having the full paperwork [certifying their legal status inThailand],” he said.

Even those who managed to avoid arrest have reported problems upon entering Burma. Several government-backed militia groups operate unofficial checkpoints close to the border that many returning migrants chose to pass through, rather than risking harassment and possible arrest at the official ones.

The man said that some were forced to pay an “entrance fee” of up to 1,500THB ($US50) at a checkpoint run by the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army’s (DKBA) Brigade 999, which is still allied to the government, close to the Burmese town of Myawaddy. A DKBA official told DVB however that they were only fining people without documents.

Andy Hall, from the Thailand-based Human Rights Development Foundation, said that the group is preparing to raise the issue with authorities in both Thailand and Burma.

Up to three million Burmese migrants live in Thailand, making up 80 percent of the country’s total migrant population, which accounts for five percent of its total workforce and seven percent of the country’s GDP.

The majority work in low-skilled factory jobs and without the legal safety net enjoyed by Thai nationals, resulting in lengthy struggles to access compensation for injuries and lay-offs.

The Thai government’s deputy spokesperson, Chalitrat Chandrubeksa, told Bloomberg News yesterday that around 9,850 factories have been inundated with water, putting some 660,000 jobs at risk. As of Tuesday the death toll in Thailand stood at more than 360.

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