Myanmar: Migrant rights group slams policy failings

The Migrant Workers’ Rights Network, an advocacy group for Myanmar migrants abroad, said in a statement on November 12 that Myanmar workers “are being [harmed] as a result of poor and incompetent migration policy management and corruption”.

“As a result, workers already at high risk of labour rights abuse, discrimination and exploitation are beginning to suffer more. Increased risks of trafficking, debt bondage and forced labour are becoming visible day by day,” the group said.

Department of Labour officials have had several meetings with their counterparts in the Thai government to resolve the issue but MWRN says neither government has made any effort to educate migrants on planned policy changes.

“It’s long overdue for these governments to sit down with representatives of migrant workers to devise a system that aligns more with the rights and interests of workers and less with the whimsies of government officials and their corrupt broker friends,” said Phil Robertson, Asia director of Human Rights Watch and author of a 2010 report on abuses against migrant workers in Thailand.

This lack of clarity has strengthened the culture of corruption on the border even stronger, MWRN said. “Rumours and confusion are now rampant in Thailand in migrant communities and the situation for migrant workers and their employers is rapidly deteriorating. For many years, officials from all sides have seemingly continued to allow such rumours and confusion regarding migrant registration to exist as a means to allow brokers to operate with impunity and exploitation.”

Representatives from the Department of Labour could not be reached for comment.

Introduced in 2009, Thailand’s national verification process was billed as a pathway for undocumented migrants to work legally in Thailand.

Through a partnership with the Department of Labour in Nay Pyi Taw, migrants are supposed to be able to pay the equivalent of US$3 for a passport and work permit.

However, the system has been blamed for facilitating the exploitation of migrants who apply for passports. Reports from MWRN as well as other human rights groups say that the cost for a passport and work permit is as high as $300 when bribes to corrupt migration officials are factored in.

Many migrant workers take out loans from local organised crime groups to cover the cost of the passport and work permit.