Malaysia returns 200 migrants to Burma

Oct 8, 2009 (DVB), Nearly 200 Burmese migrant workers in Malaysia have been returned to Burma following a mutual agreement between the two governments, with some reportedly detained upon arrival.

Burma's ruling junta has been urging migrant workers to return to the country, promising employment in agriculture and other industries.

Maung Hla, from the Malaysia-based Burma Refugee Organisation, said that the migrants were told to pay between 550 and 180 Malaysian ringgit ($US160 and $US530) before leaving Malaysia.

Malaysia has become the focus of recent attention on human trafficking of Burmese nationals, many of whom arrive in the country under the pretext of finding work.

In July, five officials from the government's immigration department were arrested on human trafficking charges. The arrests came shortly after a US government report accused Malaysia of failing to comply with minimum standards to eliminate trafficking.

Maung Hla said that many of those now being sent back to Burma may have been in detention for more than two years, after a government crackdown meant they could no longer be sold to traffickers.

A man from Burma's Bago division told DVB yesterday that two friends of his who recently returned to Burma under the agreement were detained upon arrival after failing to show their identity cards.

"They were detained in the office at around 10.30am," he said. "Around 4pm, the officials asked them to pay 20,000 kyat ($US20) each and let them go. It happened before my eyes."

A recent UN human development report said however that migration for economic reasons was in many cases a positive factor, and recommended "lowering of barriers to movement and improving the treatment of movers".

The report highlighted an agreement between Burma and Thailand to issue Burmese migrant workers with temporary passports, although said that "continuing complaints suggest that delays and demands for bribes remain common".

An estimated 2.5 million Burmese migrants live in Thailand, many of them employed despite not being awarded equal labour rights by the Thai government.

Reporting by Nan Kham Kaew

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