Illegal Burmese migrant workers deported back to eastern Burma from Thailand are being asked to pay border crossing fees by the pro-junta Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) militia.
The group has set up unofficial border checkpoints in the Karen state border town of Myawaddy, across the Moei river from Thailand’s Mae Sot. Illegal Burmese migrants are now returning in droves after Thailand launched a police crackdown last month.
A Thailand-based Burmese labour rights group said that around 200 migrants each day are crossing the border, many of whom were arrested in Mae Sot and Bangkok, despite Burmese authorities accepting only 400 per week.
The remaining are therefore forced to go through unofficial DKBA checkpoints, which charge 1200 kyat (US$40). Migrant workers often earn less than half of Thailand’s 206 baht ($US6) per day minimum wage.
Moe Swe, general secretary of the Yaung Chi Oo labour group, said the Burmese government has always denied the amount of migrants in Thailand and therefore didn’t want to accept them back.
“This could also be due to concerns that [the Burmese junta’s] political image will be damaged if they accept back a lot of migrant workers and then have a high rate of unemployment in the country.”
He added that the reluctance of the Burmese government meant that Thailand was forcibly sending the migrants through DKBA checkpoints.
A DKBA official at one of the checkpoints in Myawaddy told DVB that different charges were placed on different people.
“We charge 400 baht [US$12] to those arrested in Mae Sot and 1200 baht to those from Bangkok because they earn different amounts,” he said. “I don’t think it’s right to criticise us for charging the money; we do things according to our own policy. If someone wants to come through our checkpoint, then pay us the money. If they don’t want to pay, then don’t come across.”
A Burmese migrant worker said: “If someone gets arrested [in Thailand] for having no documents, then he or she will be detained in jail for one day and then get deported. There are two DKBA checkpoints [run by DKBA brigades] 16 and 999 and they are charging 1200 baht from the migrants. That is blood-sucking.”
Another migrant worker said that most Burmese nationals arrested for illegally staying in Thailand prefer to be deported back via the DKBA checkpoints because it is easier for them to cross the border back into Thailand through those checkpoints.
Moe Swe said the Thai government’s crackdown on migrants is not effective, given that they are still coming back into Thailand after deportation.
“Also, the current [migrant registration] system which gives employers the control over the labour card should be changed,” he added. “Migrants will become more interested in registering if they are allowed to apply for the labour cards themselves.”
“Secondly, the [national verification process] between the Thai and the Burmese government [is flawed] because the migrants don’t trust the Burmese government and [cannot afford] the high costs of the process. We would like to suggest the government thoroughly revises the system.”