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Southeast Asia's migrant workers united in misery

Incidents in Thailand and South Korea highlight the abuse and exploitation migrant workers from Southeast Asia face daily

Benjamin Freeman, Bangkok

Benjamin Freeman, Bangkok

Updated: December 24, 2020 10:14 AM GMT
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Southeast Asia's migrant workers united in misery

Thai medical officials collect a nose swab to test for Covid-19 at a seafood market in Samut Sakhon after local infections were detected and linked to a vendor. Many workers at the market are migrants from Myanmar. (Photo: AFP)

Two seemingly unconnected incidents in two different countries involving two different sets of people have one major thing in common: they both attest to the abuse and exploitation that numerous migrant workers from Southeast Asia face on a daily basis.

In one episode the owner of a plastic factory in Samut Sakhon, a central Thai province that has become a hotbed of Covid-19 infections among Burmese migrant workers in recent days, reportedly rounded up 24 migrant workers from Myanmar working at his plant and drove them away down a highway at night.

The employer then unceremoniously dumped the two dozen workers at the side of a road outside Bangkok on the night of Dec. 22.

“The workers said they didn’t know where they would be heading to and they were just following their employer’s order,” a senior police officer told local media.

Apparently the Thai owner, fearing an outbreak of Covid-19 among his Burmese employees at his factory, decided to rid himself of them by leaving them to their fate.

A day later another three migrant workers from the same factory were found to have been abandoned by the owner, who is now facing several charges, including the violation of provincial lockdown rules by driving the workers out of the province.

Meanwhile, the Thomson Reuters Foundation has reported that at least 522 Thai migrant workers, the vast majority of whom were undocumented, have died in South Korea since 2015.

Four out of 10 deaths had unknown causes, according to the Thai embassy in Seoul, while the rest were attributed to accidents, suicides and health-related causes.

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