25 February 2018

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In five months, over 155,000 irregular Burmese workers returned from Thailand

The exodus caused by fear of Bangkok government’s new labor laws. Fines of between 1000 and 2 thousand euros for all foreigners without regular permits and sentences of up to five years in prison. The influx has overburdened social agencies and the border crossing between Myanmar and Thailand. Returning migrants victims of extortion by the Thai security forces. In Thailand there are about 4-5 million migrant workers, 1 million are illegal.

Naypyitaw (AsiaNews / Agencies) - In the last five months, a total of 155,169 undocumented migrant workers have returned to Myanmar from Thailand, according to a statement published yesterday by the Naypyitaw Ministry of Internal Affairs. Among the repatriates  66.980 workers returned to the country during the period between June 29 and December 3.

Irregular Burmese migrants began to return to Myanmar in the end of June, although the Thai authorities have delayed the full implementation of a new labor law. The new law, approved by the military government of Bangkok on  June 23, sets fines of between 1000 and 2 thousand euros for all foreigners without regular permission and sentences up to five years in prison.

Between June 23 and 28, about 60 thousand immigrants left Thailand for fear of sanctions. Following the news of the exodus, on June 30 the military junta promised a 120-day postponement in the execution of parts of the decree, including fines of up to 800 thousand baht (about 23,500 euros) for employers who hire unregistered foreign workers. The Burmese group is the ethnic group most affected by the provision, but there are also many citizens of Laos and Cambodia who have fled the country.

The influx has overloaded the social agencies and the border crossing between Myanmar and Thailand, prompting the Bangkok authorities to limit the number of crossings to only 100 people a day. This causes serious difficulties for many Burmese migrants, who do not have enough food and cannot find accommodation while waiting to cross the border. Once they do cross they are welcomed by officials from their country's Ministry of Labor. The latter have received numerous complaints from returning migrants, who claim to have been victims of extortion by Thai officials at several checkpoints in the Muang district, in the province of Tak.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) reports that in Thailand there are about 4-5 million migrant workers, and 1 million illegal migrant workers, especially Burmese. Since taking over in a 2014 coup, the government junta has conducted several campaigns to regularize the foreign labor force, driven in part by media reports on the exploitation of unregulated workers by employers.

See also

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The country has one of the largest migrant population in all of Southeast Asia, some 4-5 million, plus about a million illegal migrants. A new law on undocumented workers came into effect on 1st January. Starting last June, workers from Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos have been leaving in droves.

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