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Over 15,000 undocumented Burmese arrested in Thailand in May alone, despite MoU restart

More than 15,000 Burmese migrant workers, fleeing persecution and economic decline across the country, were arrested in Thailand in May alone, according to Moe Kyo, chairperson of the Mae Sot-based Joint Action Committee for Burmese Citizens (JACBA). The committee recorded that 150 Burmese and Thai brokers were arrested over the same period.

“This month, the number of people crossing the border illegally has reached a record high. The Thai government announced that as of May 24, more than 13,000 people have been arrested. Since then, we have been monitoring the numbers until May 31 as well, with a total of more than 15,000 migrant workers and 150 have been arrested in May,” Moe Kyo said.

Undocumented Burmese migrant workers continue to flood into neighboring Thailand despite the recent restart of the kingdom’s Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) labor quota system.

The group reports that undocumented Burmese have been arrested at points along the entire distance of the Thai-Burma border: in Kanchanaburi, Tak, Prachuap Khiri Kan, Chiang Rai, and Ranong provinces; with other groups detained by authorities in Songkhla and Narathiwat provinces near the Malaysian border.

In addition to the rising number of arrests, brokerage fees, usually covered by those making the dangerous crossings taking on significant debt, are said to have risen from THB25,000 (US$730) to THB50,000 (US$1,460) for those looking to cross the Thai-Malaysian border. Transport services to Thailand reportedly cost between THB20,000 (US$580) and THB23,000 (US$670), whilst additional “job search” fees come in at between THB20,000 to THB23,000.

Moe Kyo said that data presented by Thai authorities suggests that 27,000 Burmese nationals were arrested for illegally entering into Thailand between January and May of this year.

Due to the unprecedented number of arrests, detention centers and border camps run by Thai immigration bodies have become so overcrowded that authorities are only able to hold those detained for short periods of time. According to Thai law, Burmese migrants must be detained for a minimum of two months to up to a year before they are handed over to agents working with Burma’s ministry of labor, now under the control of the military.

26,859 migrants were repatriated from Aug. 2021 to May 30 of this year at the Mae Sot-Myawaddy No.2 Border Bridge. Despite regulations, those arrested are now immediately returned to Burma if caught crossing within ten kilometers of the Thai-Burma border, according to Moe Kyo.

Only 2,053 Burmese workers have so far arrived in Thailand after last month’s resumption of the bilateral MoU program, which had been suspended for two years following the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Moe Kyo says that he has urged the Thai government to shorten the immigration process as only a small number of job seekers have received official placement letters from Thailand, despite the kingdom setting a quota of 150,000 Burmese migrants.

Despite Thai authorities repeatedly announcing plans to reopen border gates along the Thai-Burma border, officials from Burma’s military say they are not ready for the reopening of the Mae Sot-Myawaddy No.1 and Tachileik-Mae Sai No.1 border bridges.

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