Prayuth, junta policy on migrant workers, and non-traditional threats to national security
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Prayuth, junta policy on migrant workers, and non-traditional threats to national security

Prayuth’s weekly address on May 30 stated (per the official talking points/translation in English):

As for supporting free trades, reduce monopoly effect, establishing central market, price control, and tax increase/reduction, these are under consideration. In addition, special economic zones will be assigned to support small factories along the border and rural areas, and important passes.

This is to prevent illegal work force from entering into the country and given more work opportunities to Thai nationals.

From the original Thai, “as for supporting free trade which is fair, reducing monopolies, establishing a central market, and price control of consumer products, reducing-increasing various taxes, there are under consideration. In addition, special economic zones will be specified in order to support small factories along the border and in rural areas and important thoroughfares so that illegal workers won’t enter the inner parts [of the country] so as to reduce the congestion for Thais [and to give] the most [opportunities for Thais] who want to work in big cities. (>สำหรับการส่งเสริมการค้าเสรีอย่างเป็นธรรม การลดการผูกขาด จัดตั้งตลาดกลาง การควบคุมราคาสินค้าสำหรับอุปโภค บริโภค การลด-เพิ่มภาษีต่าง ๆ กำลังอยู่ในขั้นตอนของการพิจารณาดำเนินการ รวมทั้งให้มีการกำหนดพื้นที่เขตเศรษฐกิจพิเศษ ส่งเสริมโรงงานขนาดเล็กตามแนวชายแดนและชนบท หรือช่องทางผ่านแดนที่สำคัญ เพื่อให้แรงงานผิดกฎหมายไม่เข้ามาหางานในพื้นที่ตอนใน ลดความแออัดของพี่น้องประชาชนคนไทยที่ต้องเข้ามาหางานในเมืองใหญ่ให้มากที่สุด).

Prayuth’s weekly address on June 6 stated (as per MFA translation – which seems fairly accurate):

The public or private sectors should jointly promote information on international cooperation through all channels. Cooperation between military and people along the border areas will be enhanced. This includes the ASEAN forests project which has been carried out by military units. The establishment of factories and the control of daily, seasonal and yearly labour along the border areas should be looked into. Some of these activities have been assigned to security agencies and are being expedited. Some are being restructured to ensure more effective results.

As for the establishment of factories at border areas and labour control, these are necessary in order to create job opportunities in rural areas. Otherwise people will travel to Bangkok and major cities to find work exacerbating problems such as drug trafficking, illegal immigration and crimes. These pose security problems in the short and long term.

On June 10, the junta set up a committee entitled Policy Committee on managing the problem of foreign workers (คณะกรรมการนโยบายการจัดการปัญหาแรงงานต่างด้าว) as per The Nation:

The junta’s 59th order on June 10 to set up a committee chaired by General Tanasak Patimapragorn, the Supreme Commander and deputy head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO) would take care of policy matters, not an operation to crack down workers, he said.

Krungthep Turakit on June 11 as summarized below:

Deputy Army spokesperson Sirichan Ngathong and the NCPO press team stated that in regards to the regulation on foreign labour that the NCPO will have a special committee to have a total look into this from all aspects in order that there is security including appropriateness in hiring workers (>พ.อ.หญิง ศิริจันทร์ งาทอง รองโฆษกกองทัพบก และคณะทำงานโฆษกคณะรักษาความสงบแห่งชาติ(คสช.) กล่าวถึงการจัดระเบียบแรงงานต่างด้าว ว่า เรื่องนี้คสช.จะมีคณะทำงานดูแลในภาพรวมทั้งหมดเพื่อให้เกิดความมั่นคง รวมทั้งความเหมาะสมการจ้างแรงงาน). In regards to [why] officials will look at this strictly, it is because the security authorities must see if there has been illegal activities [namely] gambling, war weapons that may create an unsafe environment. (ส่วนที่มีเจ้าหน้าที่เข้าไปดูแลกวดขันนั้น เพราะฝ่ายความมั่นคงต้องดูว่ามีสิ่งผิดกฎหมาย การพนัน อาวุธสงคราม ที่อาจจะสร้างความไม่ปลอดภัย) On this issue, there is an urgency to consider this if checks show that there are illegal workers then legal action must be taken against them and sending them back home. The NCPO must create social order in order to border trade so must be strict about labor  (ทั้งนี้เรื่องใดที่มีความเร่งด่วนต้องเข้าไปดู หากตรวจสอบแล้วพบว่าเป็นแรงงานต่างด้าวที่ผิดกฎหมายก็ต้องดำเนินการตามกฎหมายและส่งตัวกลับ ทั้งนี้คสช.ต้องการจัดระเบียบสังคม การค้าแนวชายแดน จึงต้องเข้มงวดเรื่องของแรงงาน)

When asked why foreign labor is a security problem, Sirichan Ngathong answered that the numbers and statistics are great and the land where the workers reside, there are not enough officials so this has caused a problem. In addition, [we] must look at the appropriateness between Thai and foreigners (เมื่อถามว่าเหตุใดจึงคิดว่าแรงงานต่างด้าวเป็นปัญหาต่อความมั่นคง พ.อ.หญิง ศิริจันทร์ กล่าวว่า เรื่องจำนวนและสถิติที่มีจำนวนมาก และพื้นที่ที่แรงงานอาศัยอยู่ซึ่งเจ้าหน้าที่ดูแลไม่เพียงพอจึงทำให้เกิดปัญหา นอกจากนั้นจะต้องดูแลให้เหมาะสมระหว่างแรงงานไทยและต่างด้าว)

Prayuth’s weekly address on June 13 stated:

On the issue of migrant workers, there are many problems. There are about unregistered 90,000 migrant workers. The Supreme Commander, as chief of security affairs, has been assigned to form a committee comprising relevant agencies to address the issue in an integrated, more efficient and speedy manner. The main issue is to regulate the daily, seasonal and annual labour and nationality verification processes. We need to set up nationality verification centers which requires the cooperation of our neighbours in determining the processes involved which I hope to expedite within one year.

On the issue of special economic zones, we are focusing on both border checkpoints and surrounding border areas. We have already proposed this to previous governments on how to restrict people from coming into the inner parts of the country, prevent illegal and criminal activities, including those relating to drugs. If we can keep these people around the borders on a daily work basis, then both migrant workers and the local people will benefit from jobs and earn enough income to provide for their families. I think it would help reduce the problems.

BP: As you can see Prayuth has been fairly consistent. He thinks the goal should be that migrant workers should be located at border areas only.

MFA on June 14 (Google cache here – they have updated the wording so no longer in the original; screenshot of Google cache here):

In addition, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs have specifically inquired the Army spokesperson Sirichan Ngathong who denied these rumours, explaining that the intention of the NCPO is to clean up society from illegal activities which include gambling, drugs and illegal workers. These actions will in no manner affect the legal workers in Thailand. Col. Winthai Suvaree, army spokesperson, further elaborated that the clean up process of illegal workers will take place gradually with the intention not to affect Thai businesses that rely on foreign workers

BP: Clean up society?

MFA on June 15:

On 13 June 2014, Mr. Sek Wannamethee, Spokesperson of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Thailand, denied as groundless news reports based on rumours that the Thai Military had run a national crackdown on Cambodian workers regardless of their status and forcibly repatriated them to their homeland, pursuant to a recent order by the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), resulting in several ten thousands of Cambodian workers fleeing Thailand and allegations of them being mistreated with some possibly injured or killed by Thai authorities.

The Spokesperson reassured that, after verification with relevant Thai authorities, including local authorities in Sa Kaeo and Trat provinces, no crackdown order targeting Cambodian workers had been issued by the NCPO. The rumour which was spread by unknown sources had caused panic among both Cambodian workers as well as Thai employers. Consequently, a number of Cambodian illegal workers have reported themselves to the Thai authorities for being repatriated voluntarily to Cambodia. To facilitate the voluntary return of a large number of illegal Cambodian workers, Sa Kaeo Immigration Office in cooperation with the local military units has provided transportation for them. No use of force or killings had taken place as alleged in the rumours and news reports based on those vague and groundless rumours.

Local authorities have also indicated that, based on interviews collected from Cambodian workers, the main reasons behind such recent high number of outflow include (1) workers returning to work in the rice farm as it is the beginning of the planting season; (2) workers returning home as their 4 year-employment contracts had been completed; (3) workers fleeing because of fear due to rumours of mass arrests and deportations by Thai authorities, and (4) calls by their families in Cambodia for them to return home due to concerns because of the rumours.

BP: So no crackdown although that was not the official position a few days before that although you will notice that Sek is denying rumours that the Thai Military had run a (1) national crackdown on (2) Cambodian workers (3)  regardless of their status and (4) forcibly repatriated them to their homeland. This is not a denial of a crackdown mainly focusing on illegal Cambodian workers…

The Nation on June 16:

The Labour Ministry on Monday rejected as groundless the reports that foreign workers are facing a severe crackdown on the orders of the military junta.

The ministry’s permanent secretary Jeerasak Sukhonthachart said the crackdown on undocumented illegal workers was continuing as before. “There is no special policy to crackdown on the illegal workers in Thailand. The inspection emphasises their rights including conditions of employment and their rights under the law and their contracts,” he said.

He was speaking after attending a national committee meeting on migrant worker management chaired by Deputy Chairman of the junta’s National Council on Peace and Order Gen Tanasak Patimapragorn.

Thanasak asked him to clarify the ministry’s policy on migrant workers. The reports have resulted in an exodus of undocumented Cambodian workers fleeing Thailand and returning home.

Reuters on June 16:

“The NCPO has no policy to sweep and clean, but teams must go to areas where there are illegal labourers to organise and manage the foreign work force as we have accumulated problems over the past 10 years,” NCPO spokesman Winthai Suvaree told Reuters.

“We ask that those who employ foreign workers continue their activities as normal and maintain good order.”

Time on June 16:

“We see illegal workers as a threat because there were a lot of them and no clear measures to handle them, which could lead to social problems,” Thai army spokesman Sirichan Ngathong said on Wednesday. (Later, though, another junta spokesperson insisted no crackdown had been ordered.)

BP: It is really hard to pinpoint what set of the rumours what caused mass numbers to start to leave as of June 10-11 as the public statements talk of taking action and from anecdotal reports there is a crackdown going on although not at the level as the rumours. Then again when essentially we are living in a heavily censored society so rumours spread….

Finally, Dr Charlie Thame, a Lecturer in Global Studies at Thammasat University, has a post at New Mandala where he states:

The military claims that migrants are a source of social problems, that they undermine social ‘stability’ and are associated with narcotics, crime, and communicable diseases.While tolerated in border provinces, authorities want to keep them away from metropolitan areas such as Bangkok. In a post-coup environment, it is interesting to note that Prayuth Chan-Ocha’s dissertation research while studying at Thailand’s National Defence College in 2007-2008 was on the role of the army in responding to non-traditional security threats, identifying migrant workers and undocumented persons as one of four urgent and immediate threats to Thai society.

BP: After googling this is correct, below is a screenshot of this dissertation which can be purchased at your junta-friendly book store for all to read.* Now, BP doubts many people are aware of this book – so don’t believe it is connected to rumours – but it does provide insight into the underlying thinking regarding the policy.

*Am not kidding, it is for sale.