Friday, August 18, 2017

With relief looms concern for Myanmar migrants

After more than a month of wrangling, the Thai government agreed to extend the deadline for undocumented migrant workers to register for official work papers until April 15, sources familiar with the process told The Myanmar Times.

The previous deadline expired on December 14, leaving an estimated one million workers, the majority of whom come from Myanmar, with no means of legalising their employment status. More than one million had registered since the program, known as National Verification, was introduced.

The January 15 decision was made following a meeting between Thai officials from the Ministry of Employment and a delegation from the Department of Labour, led by Director General U Myo Aung. The two agencies have met more than a dozen times since the previous deadline expired.

“This is a very happy day for Myanmar workers,” said Daw Khin Lu, a special adviser in the office of the director general.

While the government and migrants’ rights advocacy groups applauded the decision, questions remain over how the policy will be implemented, particularly whether it will simply end up lining the pockets of brokers and corrupt government officials.

“The challenge now for Myanmar and Thailand is in implementation of the policy in terms of ensuring transparency, regulation of any agents involved in the process to keep costs low and avoid debt bondage, and awareness raising for the workers concerned,” said Andy Hall, an expert on migrant workers in Thailand and regular adviser to the government in Nay Pyi Taw.

Before the previous deadline, the process for migrant registration was notorious for its corruption and extremely high costs.

Mr Hall and Jackie Pollack of the Mae Sot-based MAP Foundation confirmed that it was not uncommon for a worker to pay more than US$500 to register under the National Verification program, in many cases borrowing the money from local crime syndicates.

In an open letter to Aung San Suu Kyi, the Migrant Worker Rights Network called the process “extortionate in practice” and urged the democracy icon to take action.

Additionally, it is unclear just how many workers will be allowed to register under the new guidelines.  Bangkok-based newspaper The Nation reported that the registration centres will process only 266,000 migrant workers, while Thai public broadcaster MCOT said registration centres will handle 500,000 applications.

Both figures are well below the estimated population of illegal migrant workers.