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Thailand mulls easing restrictions on migrant workers

Move comes amid ongoing influx of illegal crossings and fears of new wave of Covid

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

UCA News reporter, Bangkok

Published: November 10, 2021 04:28 AM GMT

Updated: November 10, 2021 04:33 AM GMT

Thailand mulls easing restrictions on migrant workers

A Thai medical officer in protective gear checks the temperature of Myanmar migrants apprehended by the Thai military in Kanchanaburi province on Nov. 1. (Photo: AFP)

Thailand’s government is considering easing entry restrictions on migrant workers from neighboring countries in the face of an ongoing influx of illegal crossings.

Thousands of migrants from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia cross into Thailand every week illegally along the country’s porous borders with the help of human traffickers and people-smuggling networks.

More than 30,000 migrants, including women and children, have been deported this year, according to official figures, but the actual number who have entered Thailand illegally is believed to be much higher.

Last week alone more than 2,800 migrants were arrested for crossing into Thailand illegally.

Even as Thai authorities have been stepping up border patrols, an acute labor shortage in key sectors means that migrant workers entering illegally are frequently guaranteed jobs on arrival.

In response, Labor Minister Suchart Chomklin has said Thailand will allow more migrant workers to enter legally from Myanmar, Laos and Cambodia in line with recently signed memorandums of understanding with these neighboring nations.

Statistics show that migrant workers have been a common cause of Covid outbreaks, especially at markets in Bangkok, Samut Sakhon and Chiang Mai

The Ministry of Labor “has not ignored the shortages of migrant workers in several businesses, and it is considering bringing in more foreign workers,” Suchart said at a press conference.

The continued influx of migrants crossing borders illegally has raised concerns in Thailand about a renewed spread of Covid-19 as illegal entrants evade health checks.

“Statistics show that migrant workers have been a common cause of Covid outbreaks, especially at markets in Bangkok, Samut Sakhon and Chiang Mai [where they work in large numbers],” said Thanakorn Wangboonkongchana, a government spokesman.

Thailand employs millions of migrant workers from neighboring countries, especially Myanmar where the economic situation of many people has become particularly dire as a result of a repressive military regime that seized power in February and an ongoing Covid-19 health crisis.

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Although working in Thailand is an inviting prospect for many economically disadvantaged people in neighboring countries, it is not without risks.

Migrant workers are frequently required to perform grueling menial tasks for up to 16 hours a day with low pay in labor-intensive sectors such as fishing, agriculture and food processing.

Debt bondage whereby migrant workers become indebted for long periods to their employers is also common, labor rights advocates say.

People in countries such as Myanmar seeking to work in Thailand often pay large sums of money they can’t afford to brokers or traffickers to help them cross the border illegally and find work on arrival.

Once in Thailand, however, they need to pay back debts they own to their employers or brokers during a process that may take months or years.

Migrant workers are often misled by brokers who take advantage of them and profit by keeping a percentage of their pay, according to Sa Saroeun of the Raks Thai Foundation, a legal aid charity.

“Migrant workers live on the edge of society. [They are] afraid to do wrong, so whatever [they are told to pay], they will pay,” Saroeun said. 

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