Thai police raids spark migrant permit surge

Feb 24, 2010 (DVB)-Raids by Thai police in a border town home to nearly 100,000 Burmese migrants have sparked a surge in the number of people applying for legal permits to live in Thailand.

An eyewitness in Mae Sot, a principal trading hub on the Thai-Burma border, said that the border bridge which connects the town to Myawaddy in Burma "was very crowded with migrants submitting applications…They are arriving in groups of 50 to 60 people".

The Thai government has demanded that migrant workers submit their application for the permits by 28 February, or face deportation. Workers are required to return to their home country to register, which has raised concerns that Burmese will be intimidated by authorities there.

Migrant rights groups have also said that financial constraints brought on by the often meager migrant wages will also hinder what is a comparatively expensive process. The process could cost them as much as three months’ wages, according to the New York-based Human Rights Watch.

Consequently few migrants have so far applied, but recent arrests and growing threats by Thai authorities appear to have pushed people to comply.

"The migrants are to begin the [registration] process after 28 February and a lot of them don’t have the money for it," said Than Doke, coordinator of the Mae Sot-based Burma Labour Solidarity Organisation (BLSO).

"Also their employers are not encouraging them to get the passports. So we’ll see that, after 28 February, there will be greater difficulty, more arrests and more human rights abuses against the migrants."

He suggested that the concerns over intimidation by Burmese authorities could be alleviated if employers "take the lead and fill in their employees’ forms and submit them to the labour department".

"If the employers refuse to do so, [applicants] should inform the labour department themselves. If they don’t fill in the forms, their legal status here will soon expire and they will become illegal migrants."

Human Rights Watch said in a recent report that Burmese migrants are "particularly at risk" from the scheme. Should they be deported, it says, "they face ethnic and political conflict in their home country."

The Thai economy is heavily reliant on the cheap labour that the estimated three million migrants from Burma provide, many of whom have fled persecution and conflict in their home country.

Reporting by Thurein Soe

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