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Slow reopening of Thai MoU system fails to halt flow of migrants heading across the border

A third legally documented batch of Burmese migrant workers arrived in Mae Sot, Thailand, on Thursday, crossing the Friendship Bridge No. 2 from Myawaddy in Karen State.

The Burmese nationals were recruited under the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) system, a Thai government program designed to absorb workers from neighboring countries (~80% of whom typically come from Burma) into Thailand’s industries.

The kingdom suspended the program for around two years due to the COVID-19 pandemic, yet it resumed this May. 588 Burmese workers were sent to Thailand on May 10 and 11 as the first and second batches of MoU workers.

Thailand says it plans to receive over 200,000 migrant workers from neighboring countries — up to 150,000 of the prospective workers are from Burma.

Despite this, Moe Kyo, chair of the Mae Sot-based Joint Working Committee for Burma Nationals’ Affairs, told DVB that hundreds of Burmese immigrants are still entering Thailand undocumented every day.

“Legal means of job recruitment are very slow… There are about 150,000 Burmese workers who have been called for work or received job offer letters from Thailand. But only hundreds are able to come a week. That is why migrant workers are illegally entering the country. They are then arrested,” he said.

The chairman said the Thai government must establish procedures to speed up the recruitment process under the MoU labor system if it really wishes to eliminate illegal immigration.

Subscribing to be accepted as an MoU worker is also a costly process; independent research by DVB found that workers, typically required by Thai authorities to pay THB12,000 (US$375) to enter the program, are paying up to THB30,000 (US$975) after all additional costs are considered — a significant amount for someone looking to enter into industrial work.

The military coup has caused unprecedented numbers of people to flee Burma to find safety and work undocumented in Thailand. Multiple thousands are believed to have crossed the border every month since the MoU system was suspended; around 1,600 Burmese migrants alone are said to have been arrested for illegally entering Thailand between May 1 and 18.


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