Feb 25, 2010 (DVB)-The Thai government has extended to the end of March the deadline for Burmese migrant workers in the country to apply for temporary passports.
The deadline had previously been set for 28 February. The Thai government announced that migrant workers who do not apply for passports by then would no longer be legally allowed to stay in Thailand, and would face immediate deportation.
The process, known as National Verification, requires that migrants return to their home country to begin the registration. It has however drawn the ire of rights groups who protest that Burmese migrants will face intimidation from authorities when they cross back into Burma to register.
The majority of Burmese migrants have been reluctant to comply, and until a police crackdown this week on Burmese living in the Thai border town of Mae Sot, few had begun the process.
Despite the announcement of the extension, made public yesterday, the scheme continues to draw complaints.
The process required to apply for permits is "not suitable for the current situation," said Sein Htay, from the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF).
"[The process] is one subject the migrants don’t have knowledge of and forcing them to take part has caused confusion. We think that’s the reason why the Thai authorities extended the deadline."
The HRDF has urged authorities in Thailand to release details of the passports in languages the migrants can understand. Sein Htay said also that the migrants themselves should learn about the process and make clear to the Thais whether it is suitable for them or not.
"The pros are that [the migrants] will be able to travel around and a bit of a backbone when calling for their rights," he said.
"In the past, the migrants were unable to stand up to anything because they had entered Thailand illegally. But [with the passports,] they will have legal entry to the country.
"The cons are more to do with personal issues. Some people may feel unsafe as they have to give personal details [to Burmese authorities.]"
There are more that two million Burmese migrant workers in Thailand, but only 27,000 of them have acquired temporary passports, while 20,000 more are applying.
The National Verification process, agreed between the Thai and Burmese governments, began in June last year in the Burmese border towns of Kaw Thaung, Tachilek and Myawaddy.
Reporting by Naw Noreen