Myanmar migrants risk arrest if they flee to Thailand


Thai authorities continue to take a hard line in their campaign to keep them out of the country

Refugees from Myanmar, who have fled a wave of violence as the military cracked down on rebel groups, rest after crossing a river on the border in Thailand’s Mae Sot district on January 15. (Photo: AFP)

Migrants fleeing Myanmar in search of safety and work in Thailand remain at risk of arrest and deportation, with local authorities continuing their campaign to keep them out of the country.

In one incident on March 10 alone, a group of 53 migrants from war-torn Myanmar were arrested after the bus they were traveling in was stopped and searched in the central province of Ayutthaya.

Police said an informant informed them about the migrants on board the bus.

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The migrants told police they paid between 26,000 baht ($785) and 28,000 baht ($845) each to a broker in Myanmar who promised them jobs in Thailand.

Since a military coup in Myanmar last February, hundreds of thousands of people from the war-torn country have entered or attempted to enter Thailand illegally in search of security and jobs.

In response, Thai authorities have stepped up border control measures, detaining migrants and preparing them for deportation back to Myanmar.

“Migrant workers live on the fringes of society and are afraid of doing something wrong, so they will pay whatever their bosses tell them.”

But even migrants who manage to remain in the country after entering the country illegally can face difficulties as they toil in low-paid and labor-intensive jobs where exploitation is rife.

Labor rights advocates have long warned that migrant workers in certain industries, such as food processing, fishing, agriculture and construction, are at risk of abuse and being forced into various forms of servitude.

“Migrant workers live on the fringes of society and are afraid of doing something wrong, so they will pay whatever their bosses tell them to do,” said Sa Saroeun, a member of the Raks Thai Foundation, a legal aid charity.

“[These] Workers mostly get their information from the employers and brokers who use it and benefit from it by withholding a percentage of their wages.”

Despite the risk of going into debt with brokers and being exploited by employers, many underprivileged people in Myanmar, as well as Cambodia and Laos, seek work in Thailand, where wages and job opportunities are superior to those at home.

Around 80,000 illegal cross-border workers, most of them from Myanmar, were caught in Thailand last year, according to Adisorn Kerdmongkol, a migrant rights lawyer.

However, it is believed that a far greater number of them managed to evade local authorities.

Thailand relies heavily on migrant workers for low-skilled jobs. Up to 4 million worked legally in the country before the pandemic, with millions more doing so illegally.

According to the Federation of Thai Industries, Thailand faces a shortage of around 800,000 migrant workers in the manufacturing, service and tourism sectors.

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