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Security concerns plague migrant workers

Jan 22, 2010 (DVB), Burmese migrant workers are waiting with concern over the new National Verification Programme which will seek to register the millions of migrant workers currently in Thailand.

The plan, which involves migrants from Burma, Laos and Cambodia registering with the government in their country of origin, as well as the Thai government, has triggered security fears among the migrant community.

"Many workers are concerned about security, especially their relatives in Burma because there are rumours that local authorities will threaten and extort money from the families of migrant workers," said Moe Swe of Yaung Chi Oo migrant workers association in Mae Sot, Thailand.

"One of the workers' mothers in Moulmein [Mon state] had money extorted from her by authorities. There was also a group of workers in Phuket [Thailand] who filled out the form and then the local authorities went and extorted money from their families," he continued.

The Thai government has extended the timeframe for verification to 2012 and a Burmese labour minister has urged migrants to complete the registration. The Thai newspaper, The Nation, reported that the minister had claimed the migrant workers would not be taxed.

Moe Swe said that some of the workers will not complete the National Verification Process, even though they are registered.

"They cannot hold their passport because the employers often keep their passports, so the employers always control them; they still won't have the freedom it is meant to give them."

There is also the concern about the price of documents and travel for registration, which could discourage many.

It could also mean that migrants enter into exploitative bonded labour with employers, whereby they take out a loan on to attain the documents and then spend a year working off the loan in poor conditions.

"It is a good thing," said Moe Swe, but "in reality there are several problems". For example, ethnic minorities who live outside of Burmese government territory no longer appear on 'family lists', and so therefore will have trouble registering in Thailand. The process relies on a claimant having a country of origin and being able to prove that.

Furthermore, decades of military rule in Burma have caused an absence of competent bureaucracy, and fuelled a reluctance to give the authorities personal information for fear of the abuse.

Reporting by Joseph Allchin


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