Myanmar migrants face Thai registration trap: activist

Thursday, 02 October 2014 05:07 Mizzima News – Mizzima News

A migrant rights activist has warned Myanmar migrants in Thailand may fall foul of new registration procedures that could force them to leave the country or throw away their passports.

Activist Andy Hall says the problem comes as a result of a restriction imposed by the Myanmar government, rather than Thai bureaucracy.

“Myanmar is demanding all workers undergo a second nationality verification process as the first process was not transparent and nationality was not properly verified,” Hall told Mizzima on Wednesday October 1st. “Now Myanmar is demanding all workers show an ID card and house registration, yet most don’t have these documents, so they are stuck.”

Thailand currently hosts an estimated 2 million Myanmar migrants. A registration amnesty over the last year allowed 1.1 million to register and work legally in the country.

Hall said previously Thailand had ignored the restriction and was extending visas in valid Myanmar passports but now the Thai immigration authorities are apparently refusing to do so anymore.

Hall has years of experience working for migrant workers rights in Thailand and Myanmar and is International Affairs Advisor the State Enterprise Workers Relations Confederation of Thailand and advisor for the Migrant Worker Rights Network.

“The Thai immigration department and Department of Employment have allegedly now restricted issuing extension visas for Myanmar workers whose four-year visas have or are going to expire,” he said.

Brokers and agencies, alongside companies and human resources staff, have allegedly started encouraging Myanmar workers who have paid out large sums of money to unregulated agencies and officials for 6-year validity passports to unlawfully discard these passports and register with National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) one-stop service centres, the activist said. Name changes are also allegedly encouraged such that migrant workers are literally changing names to register anew.

Myanmar migrants appear to have run into difficulty due to efforts by the Myanmar government to make sure Myanmar citizens travelling abroad carry official passports and fulfill official registration procedures.

Many of the major Thai companies hiring workers are reporting this restriction and telling workers they must throw away passports or leave the country as the companies cannot hire irregular workers, as are many migrant agencies and brokers saying the same thing, Hall told Mizzima.

“Migrant workers also reporting in huge numbers being ordered to throw away passports. I didn’t see anything official but both the Thai and the Myanmar government have been issuing orders for months now even prior to the coup and no one knows what’s going on. Apparently an official order from Nay Pyi Taw demanded revocation of the around 2 million temporary passports issued to Myanmar migrants in Thailand to be replaced with permanent passports.”

Hall says a Thai government source, who prefers to remain anonymous, says this problem has mainly been caused by the Myanmar government’s unrealistic demands regarding a new nationality verification process even when workers still have valid passports.

The NCPO, Thailand’s new military government, has been caught between shrill international calls to tighten up on human trafficking and labour abuses and yet at the same time not spark migrant fears through clampdowns, as seen in the recent exodus of 150,000 Cambodian migrants.

Hall says there has been little if any other improvement in the situation of migrant rights protection, reductions in extortion and corruption in Thailand, despite the NCPO’s stated mandate when they came to power in May in a military coup that they would take on the endemic problems of corruption in the country.