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Thailand

Desperate Myanmar migrants flee to Thailand

Those caught are charged with illegal entry and deported back to the conflict-ravaged country

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

Published: October 26, 2021 05:26 AM GMT

Updated: October 26, 2021 05:32 AM GMT

Desperate Myanmar migrants flee to Thailand

Myanmar migrants are detained beside an overturned vehicle following a car chase in the western Thai province of Kanchanaburi, bordering Myanmar, on May 12. (Photo: AFP/Royal Thai Army)

Desperate economic migrants from neighboring Myanmar continue to evade border control measures to enter Thailand in the hope of finding jobs and feeding their families.

In the western Thai province of Kanchanaburi alone, a group of 71 migrants, including 35 women, were apprehended by a joint patrol of police and military officers on Oct. 25.

The migrants from Dawei, Bago and Mawlumyine townships in Myanmar said they had each paid between 17,000 baht ((US$513) and 20,000 baht to people smugglers and local brokers for jobs in various cities and towns of Thailand.

The same day 260 migrants from Myanmar were detained in just one district of the Thai province adjacent to Myanmar, while the day before 120 migrants were arrested in the same district for having crossed into Thailand illegally.

The detained migrants were charged with illegal entry and will be deported back to Myanmar, local authorities said.

Over the past few months, thousands of migrants from Myanmar have been entering Thailand illegally, driven by hardships in their homeland following a brutal and economically ruinous military takeover of their nation in February.

The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the direct connection between increased socioeconomic vulnerability, discrimination and the risk of exploitation in forced labor

The majority of migrants from Myanmar are smuggled into Thailand via people smugglers and brokers who promise jobs in exchange for payments that these desperate people can ill afford.

As a result of such arrangements, many migrants from Myanmar end up in debt bondage whereby they have to pay back debts owed to brokers over a long period while working for little or no payment in grueling conditions in such labor-intensive sectors as food processing, agriculture and fishing.

Debt bondage “usually begins when poor people have no option but to take a loan or wage advance from their employer to cover emergency or major social expenditures. They subsequently find it impossible to repay for a combination of reasons, including high-interest rates [and] low pay,” according to the International Labor Organization (ILO).

Illiteracy compounds the problem as debtors are unable to keep or verify records of the loan payments they have made, and in most cases no written contract exists in the first place, the ILO added.

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Human rights groups have called on governments to ensure that economic migrants desperate for work do not end up being exploited in various ways.

“The Covid-19 pandemic has highlighted the direct connection between increased socioeconomic vulnerability, discrimination and the risk of exploitation in forced labor,” said the United Nations Human Rights Office of the High Commissioner (OHCHR).

The OHCHR further said that workers in low-income and emerging economies have been disproportionally affected by the pandemic. “To ensure that no one is left behind as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic, [UN member states such as Thailand] must increase their efforts to identify and protect victims of slavery and trafficking,” it suggested.

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