Human traffickers and scammers operating within major cities are reported to be targeting young people looking to leave Burma for work due to the increasing scarcity of domestic job opportunities.
The Myanmar Overseas Employment Agencies Federation (MOEAF), a recruitment watchdog based in Yangon, said yesterday that it had rescued another 160 Burmese nationals illegally transported to Thailand.
When stopped by MOEAF, the group said that they had been collected by three brokers at a monastery by the east wing of Yangon’s Shwedagon Pagoda on Jan. 16.
On Jan. 18, a total of 51 people who said that they had been stationed by brokers at a hostel in Min Ye Kyaw Swar Road, in Yangon’s North Dagon township, were released by MOEAF. The federation says it is now attempting to reclaim money and passports that were taken by brokers.
“We are from Phyu city. We followed the broker as he told us he would send us via the official route. We paid him K170,000 [US$90] for a passport, and another K18 lakh [US$950] two days ago. He said we would be given work at an electronics factory in Thailand and earn THB330 [USD10] per day. We were told to wait here whilst he was making the Overseas Workers Identification Card. We have been stuck here now for ten days,” a man who was collected by MOEAF in North Dagon told DVB.
MOEAF said that workers looking to work abroad are often deceived by brokers operating on Facebook.
“I would like to suggest that people refer to official pages on Facebook, such as Safe Migration and MOEAF, rather than putting faith in the pages of scammers. Anyone with doubts can message us and have their concerns addressed — this includes workers who have already been taken abroad. A worker sent abroad by a criminal organization recently returned to Burma without receiving his salary — after we discussed it with the organization, they paid him,” a MOEAF spokesperson told DVB.
Under a Memorandum Of Understanding (MoU) between Burma and Thailand’s labor ministries, Thailand sets an annual quota of Burmese migrant workers who may be given legal migration status due to the country’s chronic labor shortage.
However, the MoU system was temporarily suspended after March 18, 2020, due to fears of the spread of COVID-19.
Abusing this situation, traffickers are persuading young people in rural areas, increasingly desperate for an escape from Burma’s disastrous post-coup economy, to pay large sums of money for the promise of manual work abroad.
Before the coup, Thai anti-trafficking authorities rarely reported arresting more than 20 illegal migrants a week. Now, it is not unusual for over one thousand undocumented Burmese to be picked up and sent back across the border, or worse.
Despite announcing that it was to reintroduce its MoU system in late December, the two ministries are reported still to be negotiating a plan for the safe migration of workers.
On the night of Jan. 18, hundreds of Burmese migrant workers lined up at the gates of the Thai Union Group PCL factory in Maha Chai in Samut Sakhon province, central Thailand, spurred on by rumors of jobs and documentation.
Barred from entry, many from the group were later arrested by the local Thai police force, said Khaing Gyi, director of the Aid Alliance Committee (AAC), a group assisting Burmese migrants in Thailand.
“It wasn’t announced officially. It is strange that they were told to apply for a job at night time. After hundreds of workers had arrived, staff from the factory shouted over loudspeakers that the police were coming. As far as I know, nearly 100 workers were arrested that night,” he said.
Most of those arrested were yesterday said to have been released and handed fines ranging from THB5,000 to THB10,000.
According to DVB’s research, more than 30,000 undocumented workers have crossed into Thailand looking for work since the coup.