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Burmese fishermen wait onshore as Thai dispute lingers

While Thai Prime Minister Gen. Prayut Chan-o-cha has urged registered fishing boats in his country to resume operations, thousands of Burmese fishermen remain onshore, struggling to survive as political disputes within the industry threaten their livelihoods.

According to Thai news group PBS, the Thai premier on Tuesday called on all legal fishing vessels to return to work, while warning fishing unions against preventing operations as a tactic to pressure the government.

“Since you have complied with all the rules, there is no reason for you not to go to sea,” Prayut said. “Let me stress again for everyone involved to stick to the rules and make everything legal, because in the past everything was lax and you were operating under false circumstances …”

In April, the European Union (EU) had issued Thailand with what it called a “yellow card”, the final warning against illegal, unreported and unregulated fishing. The Europeans gave the country six months to significantly improve its record, threatening a ban on Thai fishery products if it did not comply.

Gen Prayut reiterated on 7 July that all fishing activities in the country must comply with international laws.

Meanwhile, with hundreds if not thousands of fishing boats suspending operations, many Burmese migrants have been left with no work.


Moe Wai of Thailand-based migrant rights group Foundation for Education and Development said thousands of Burmese workers on fishing boats in southern Thailand have not been able to work after their employers suspended operations as they were unable to fulfil new legal requirements imposed by the ruling military junta.

“As far as I know, between 800 and a thousand fishing boats in Trang, Songkhla and Pattani have been grounded. The majority of the workers on these boats are Burmese,” he said. “They are being fed by their employers, but are not making any regular income.”

The Thai junta recently announced the criteria necessary for fishing boats to acquire legal status, including a license and registration for the vessel, radio communication equipment, various safety measures, and labour IDs for all the ship’s crew.

In May, Thai authorities began issuing labour ID cards to migrant workers within its fishing industry following heavy criticism for inaction against rampant human trafficking in the trade.

A registration deadline for fishing boat operators was originally set for 1 July but has been extended to 15 July.


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