Acting on a stringent new labour law, Thai police are leading a crackdown on Burmese migrant workers. In the latest in a series of busts, two teachers at a migrant school in the border town of Mae Sot were detained on Wednesday.
“A teacher from the New Wave migrant school was en route to work from his dormitory when he was arrested by Thai police on the morning of 28 June. The headmaster of the school attempted to assist by going to the place where the teacher was detained, but then he got arrested too,” said Naing Naing Tun, the general secretary of Burmese Migrant Teachers Association (BMTA).
“Both the teacher and headmaster are Burmese. They have identification cards issued by the local Migrant Education Coordination Center, of which Tak Province Education Department has been a focal member. They showed their ID cards to the police but they were still arrested.
“Some say they have now been deported across the border,” he said. “They have not come back since their arrest. One of them apparently said he will not return to Mae Sot. The school is currently closed and the remaining teachers do not dare go out.”
The New Wave school has 10 teachers and 150 students, almost exclusively children of Burmese migrant workers.
“Almost every day we hear about police busting a factory, workplace or shantytown in Mae Sot. Hundreds of Burmese migrants have recently returned to Burma to avoid the police,” said Moe Swe, secretary of the Yaung Chi Oo workers’ association based in Mae Sot.
“The police crackdown has been ongoing since 1 June,” he told DVB. “We have recorded 236 Burmese migrant workers, including 16 children, being arrested. On 8 June alone, 50 Burmese workers were arrested. The following day, the police detained 70 undocumented migrants during a sweep at Mae Sot market. Then, on 11 June, more than 30 migrants were arrested near the Moei riverbank. And on 23 June, another police crackdown near the Mae Sot market resulted in the arrest of 40 undocumented migrant workers.
“Now, hundreds of Burmese migrant workers, including many in Bangkok, are heading home to Burma on a daily basis.”
Moe Swe estimated that two-thirds of the Burmese migrant population are working without documentation.
“If the police crackdown continues at this rate, it will affect Thailand’s economy,” he added.
Ye Min from Aid Alliance Committee (AAC) told DVB on Thursday that a similar policy is going on in and around Bangkok, where thousands of Burmese work in seafood packaging plants and other aspects of the fisheries industry.
“Some 2,000 migrants from three provinces – Samut Sakhon, Lopburi and Samut Prakan – have recently returned to Burma,” he said. “The new law is being enforced harshly. We have informed the Burmese ambassador in Thailand and requested he make the necessary arrangements for the most convenient way to return migrants to Burma.”
“AAC and the Foundation for Education and Development are going to meet with organisations inside Burma to discuss arrangements for the resettlement of returning migrants,” Ye Min said. “We must also try to make the repatriation process less costly for these families.”