Thailand begins migrant ‘slave’ probe

Police in Thailand have begun an investigation into the nearly 60 Burmese migrants who were freed last week after being locked up and forced to work for months in a garment factory in Bangkok.

A lawyer from the Lawyer Council of Thailand said the police are looking at a lawsuit filed by the Burmese Association of Thailand (BAT) and are being closely being watched by Thai NGOs.

The factory employers are to face at least three separate charges and if found guilty, could pay compensation to the migrants and serve prison terms of at least 10 years.

“Denying standard wages for the workers is a violation of both the labour and the criminal law, and they are also to be charged under the human trafficking law,” said the lawyer. “There is 10 year jail term for the human trafficking charge alone if found guilty.”

He said it is likely the defendants will do their best to defend themselves given the seriousness of the penalties, and so it is important the migrants are assisted by their home country’s government.

On 19 April Thai authorities raided a factory in Bangkok’s Ding Daeng area and freed nearly 60 undocumented Burmese migrants who had been enslaved in the building for as long as eight months.

Kyaw Thaung of the BAT said the Burmese embassy in Bangkok made a contact with the organisation three days after the migrants were freed to enquire about the situation.

“They phoned us on 22 April around 9pm and asked to help them out getting some details about the case,” said Kyaw Thaung.

The Burmese embassy, which is notoriously ignorant about the plight of migrant workers in Thailand, has been unusually attentive since the new government was sworn in in March. In the past month the embassy donated 10,000THB ($US335) for victims of a car crash in Mahachai area in which five Burmese migrants were killed.

The freed migrants, having no legal work permits in Thailand, are being kept at a temporary [government] guesthouse in Pathum Thani while 15 females are in a security guesthouse in Nonthaburi.

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