Up to 5000 Burmese migrants in the Thai border town of Mae Sot have gone into hiding after Thai police began sweeping through factories and arresting illegal migrants.
More than 750 have been arrested since the crackdown began, said the leader of the Mae Sot-based Joint Action Committee on Burmese Affairs (JACBA), Moe Gyo.
“[Police] raided the Omega garment factory on 8 May and arrested 160 migrants. The raids continued for the next few days and so far more than 600 people have been arrested,” he said, adding the operation was carried out by a 20-strong police squad working “under the illegal migrants repatriation programme.”
Kyaw Sein, from the migrant assistance group, Yaung Chi Oo Worker Association, said that the standard protocol is for the arrested migrants to go to court and then jail, where they are normally held for 64 days before being released. “After they are released they are usually deported to Burma,” he added.
A DVB reporter in Mae Sot said that some of the migrants who were arrested have already been released but many factories and construction sites in Thailand’s western Tak province remained closed, with workers fearing more raids.
Hundreds are now said to be hiding in monasteries and forests near to Mae Sot, while others are crossing back into Myawaddy, across the border from Mae Sot, and waiting for the situation to ease.
“These people came to work in Thailand due to the shortage of jobs in Burma, and not all of them can afford to pay for the migrant labour card fees,” said Moe Gyo. “These crackdowns happened in the past and the hiding is becoming a routine.”
Out of nearly 400,000 Burmese migrant workers in Tak province, only around 30,000 are legally registered to work in Thailand. Despite this, many still struggle to attain standard labour rights.
The Thai government’s employment department chief, Jeerasak Sukhonthachat, told The Nation newspaper yesterday that it expected around 1.2 million Burmese migrants to register by 2012 under the nationality verification process; 82,700 have so far registered.
The programme requires migrants to register at offices across the border in Burma, although migrant rights groups have warned that this could put them at risk of intimidation by Burmese authorities.