Less than one month after an immigration crackdown by the Thai military junta forced more than 200,000 illegal migrant workers to flee across the border to Cambodia, the coup-makers are now turning their attention to Burmese immigrants.
Refugee advocates are raising concerns about the safety and welfare of 130,000 people whom Thailand’s military government plans to send to send back to Burma.
Thailand has long relied on migrant workers from its poorer neighbors to work in menial jobs that many Thais will not do. Many argue that the Thai economy relies on these workers, most of whom come from Burma and Cambodia, but recent bad press on Thailand’s fishing industry and an embarrassing downgrade on a major human trafficking ranking has prompted the junta to take action on illegal migrants.
Human Rights Watch researcher Sunai Phasuk says the Thai junta should clarify its plans to make sure the repatriation is not forced.
Junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha said last week that Thailand and Burma will facilitate their safe return.
While most of the Cambodian migrants who fled Thailand last month left jobs behind, many of the people affected in this latest move belong to ethnic minorities and have been living in refugee camps in Thailand after fleeing fighting in eastern Burma.
Sunai said on Tuesday both nations should consult with the affected people and international organizations with expertise in the issue before finalizing any repatriation plans.
Much like those who returned to Cambodia, many of these migrants will likely face difficult condition in their home country. Asian Correspondent’s Michelle Tolson traveled to PoiPet on the Thai-Cambodia border earlier this month where she spoke to recently returned workers who faced uncertainty and exploitation as they waited for the opportunity to enter Thailand again legally. Burma’s migrants face a similar fate, if not worse.
Additional reporting from Associated Press