400,000 migrant workers in Thailand at risk of deportation

A civil society group providing assistance to migrants in Thailand has stated that nearly 400,000 migrants are currently at risk of deportation while human trafficking problems are still endemic.   

On Thursday, 18 December 2015, International Migrants Day, the Migrant Working Group (MWG), a civil society organisation based in Thailand, held a press conference to launch its 2015 report ‘Migrant Crisis Protection’ at Xavier Hall in central Bangkok.

The MWG stated that the Thai government has failed to process, provide with basic services, and guarantee basic rights to migrants and refugees in the country.  

Adisorn Kerdmonkol, the representative of MWG, told the press at the conference that according to data from the Ministry of Labour, between 1 April and 30 June 2015, the Office of Foreign Workers Administration registered 1,049,326 migrant workers at the Office’s One Stop Service Centre (OSS).

Currently, only 133,917 migrants have completed the process to determine their nationalities to have their work permits renewed. However, there are as many as 400,000 migrants who have been left out of the process.

These 400,000 migrant workers, most of whom are from Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia, do not have access to basic state services and are at risk of being deported back to their countries of origin or falling prey to human traffickers, Adisorn said.

He pointed out that without official papers, illegal migrant workers are not protected and prone to abusive treatment from employers, adding that the process to register migrant workers in the country is extremely slow and plagued with corruption.

Siwawong Suktawee, another MWG representative, added that the Thai authorities under the military government have also repeatedly failed to comply with the international ‘non-refoulement’ principle of the UNHCR when it comes to dealing with refugees.

Last month, the Thai authorities deported back to China two Chinese activists in self-imposed exile who already received refugee status from the UNHCR and were awaiting resettlement in Canada. Earlier in July 2015, the Thai military government deported nearly 100 Uighurs from several detention centres in Bangkok back to China.

The deportation of the Uighurs sparked protests in Turkey in early July. The protesters attacked Thailand’s honorary consulate in Istanbul, smashing windows and destroying other property. About a month after the deportation, on 17 August 2015, Bangkok’s Ratchaprasong intersection, one of the busiest in central Bangkok, was rocked by a bomb attack which left 20 people dead and 135 injured.

Siwawong also said that the weak rule of law and corruption in human trafficking play a key role in creating an environment where human trafficking rings can operate.

He illustrated his statement with the case of Maj Gen Paween Pongsiri, the former head of the team investigating the human trafficking of Rohingya and Bangladeshi migrants who is now seeking asylum in Australia after his investigation led to 153 arrest warrants being issued against suspects in human trafficking rings, some of whom are high-ranking military officers.

Siwawong alleged that human trafficking activities along the western Andaman coast of southern Thailand have been allowed to persist because of the involvement of officials in the Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) Region 4 under the military.

After the discovery of mass graves along the Thai-Malaysian border in May 2015, 91 people, including a high ranking Army officer, Maj Gen Manas Kongpan, four police officers, and the former head of the Satun Provincial Administration Organisation, Patchuban Angchotphan, were arrested. Another 62 suspects, however, are still at large.

The discovery of the mass graves, which made headlines worldwide, coupled with the US government’s decision to keep the country on Tier-3 in its Trafficking in Persons (TIP) Reports for two consecutive years and fear of trade sanctions from the EU, especially in the lucrative fishery industry, prompted the Thai authorities to clamp down on human trafficking networks, which had previously been ignored.