On the first afternoon of her three-day state visit to Thailand, Burma’s State Counsellor and Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi travelled to the fishing port of Mahachai, some 20 kilometres south of the Thai capital, Bangkok, to address Burmese migrant labourers.
“My agenda during this trip to Thailand is mainly to promote the understanding and friendship between our two countries, she said today. “And for that to happen, we need better understanding and friendship between both the citizens and governments of the two countries.
“We will only know how to help solve the issues when those concerned individuals tell us what to do. We can only decide what we can do for them after listening to their voices.”
She continued: “The important thing is to ensure safety for our citizens and allow them to work.
“I would like to request you to tell us frankly what we can do for you, and what you hope for. But at the same time be practical. If you ask for the impossible, then we can only give you the answer ‘no’.”
Tens of thousands of Burmese work in Mahachai’s fish-processing factories. Although many work without proper permits, controversial steps have been made to offer legal documentation in recent years.
“At the moment, we are trying to get Certificates of Identity for our citizens.” Suu Kyi said, addressing most migrants’ main concern. “Ideally, we want you to have passports, and Thailand, your host country, does not object to this. We have plans to issue passports in the future, and will ensure that our citizens enjoy the rights provided by the legal system in this country.”
Just 200 handpicked migrant workers were allowed in to meet the Burmese democracy icon when she arrived at a venue that had been set up to host a small town hall-type meeting in Mahachai.
Originally, some 500 Burmese migrants had been slated to attend; however organisers abruptly cut the number without offering an explanation, then removed all surplus chairs from the room before Suu Kyi arrived.
Thai officials apparently told the migrants they were prohibited from laughing during the meeting with Suu Kyi.
The Burmese leader’s trip marks her first official visit to neighbouring Thailand since she swept to power in November’s general elections.