Myanmar migrants and local workers gather shrimp at a seafood market in the coastal province of Samut Sakhon. (Photo: AFP)
In the latest string of border control measures targeted at migrant workers by Thai authorities, a dozen people from Myanmar were arrested on the night of Nov. 21 after crossing illegally into Thailand.
The migrants, who comprised both men and women, told police that they had paid a Thai broker 6,500 baht (US$214) each after he had promised to help them to get to the Thai resort island of Phuket where they had jobs waiting for them.
The 12 migrants were spotted by police soon after they had crossed into Thailand under cover of darkness past midnight. They fled into a rubber plantation but were soon detained.
Many migrant workers from Myanmar have been detained over the past few months for crossing into Thailand illegally as authorities continue to enforce strict border control measures to limit the spread of Covid-19.
Earlier this month three women from Myanmar were arrested in the border town of Mae Sot in western Thailand after they had crossed into the country in search of employment.
Hundreds of thousands of migrant workers returned home from Thailand in March just before the two countries’ borders were closed as a result of an unfolding pandemic and they have since been left stranded in Myanmar without a chance to return and resume their work in Thailand.
Lacking comparable job opportunities back home, these migrant workers have fallen on hard times financially, labor rights activists say.
Last year nearly 5 million migrant workers were employed in Thailand, both legally and illegally, with most of them coming from Myanmar, according to figures by the United Nations.
All told as many as 3 million migrant workers from Myanmar were working in the country, especially in the tourism, manufacturing, seafood and agricultural sectors.
Although many migrant laborers in Thailand are required to work long hours in grueling conditions for low wages, they would have no employment at all back home.
As the Thai government has just expanded its state of emergency until Jan. 15 next year, it seems likely that few migrants from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos (who together comprise the bulk of the country’s migrant workforce) will be allowed back into Thailand before that date.
Having been unemployed for months, many migrant workers in these three countries are facing increased financial hardship, according to the International Labour Organization.
However, Thai industry is also feeling the pinch without migrant workers, who account for as much as 60 percent of the workforce in labor-intensive industries such as agribusiness and food processing.
Many Thais who are unemployed are disinclined to work in food processing and similar lines of work because of the grueling conditions and the monotony of the tasks, according to Poj Aramwattananont, vice-chairman of the Thai Board of Trade.
“The private sector is [seeking in vain] to entice Thai unemployed workers to work in industries such as the agricultural and food industries, which are estimated to need 200,000 to 300,000 workers,” he said.
“After the pandemic recedes, we are afraid business owners who fail to find workers may opt to use more automated systems and machines, eventually resulting in higher unemployment in the country.”