Migrant rights discussion sheds light on temporary passport application

Wed 18 Nov 2009, Jaloon Htaw
On November 15th, at the Wat Pomvichian Chotikaram in Mahachai, the Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN) hosted a panel discussion for Burmese migrants workers, to discuss the process behind the Thai national verification project, and the positive and negative elements of the temporary passports being issued jointly by the Thai and Burmese governments.

Supported by the Human Rights and Development Foundation Migrant Justice Program (HRDF-MJP), the presentation, “Benefits and Challenges of Nationality Verification for Migrant Workers from Burma”, addressed the migrant communities concerns about the Thai worker ID verification process, and the application process for the temporary passports.

“We clarified for migrant workers how they can make decisions for their future, when trying to decide about the temporary passports,” Ko Sein Htay, an assistant lawyer with the HRDF-MPJ told IMNA. “If migrant workers have become legalized workers [after getting verified and receiving worker ID], they should go do a temporary passport. If the migrant workers don’t believe in the temporary passports, that is up to them.”

The meeting, attended by over 350 members of the migrant worker community, featured speakers from the Samut Sakorn Employment Office, an advisor to the Samut Sakorn Fisheries Association, the Raks Thai Foundation, and two migrant workers who had received the temporary passports, one having used a broker, the other having gotten the passport without assistance. The meeting was presided over by a member of the Lawyers Council of Thailand. Besides migrant workers, the discussion was attended by members of other migrant labor rights organizations, to gather information that would in be used to inform migrants seeking assistance.

“The HRDF helped get all these migrant workers to the meeting. They also helped make it possible for all those who attended the meeting to hear explanations of what migrant workers don’t understand,” explained a member of the Rehmonya Labor Union (RLU), who attended the discussion. “And then the 2 of migrant workers who already got passports, they also explained how to get a passports and how it’s an easy process.”

The RLU is a labor rights organization that focuses on providing a broad range of support for Mon migrant workers. Founded in 2005, the RLU has 4 offices, located in Sanklaburi, Ranong, Marachai and Phuket.

Other migrant workers from local fish factories stated that because they went to the meeting, and had the process explained to them by the panel, they were interested in applying for the passport.

Ko Sein Htay attempted to make clear to those attending that when applying for the temporary passport, migrant workers must put the passport applicant’s real name and real address of their home residence in Burma. After sending in the application, and receiving a reply from the passport office, both the worker and their employer go to the Mae Sot, along the Thai/Burma border, to complete the application process. He also emphasized that the total of cost for the passport application is 600 Baht.

“Brokers have been lying to migrant workers about giving them 100 or 200 Baht for a passport. Some workers have believed this,” said Ko Sein Htay. According to another member of a migrant rights NGOs who attend to meeting, the passport will help migrant workers who meet with problems such as harassment by police or employers, or denial of equal pay and workplace rights. If migrant workers need something to do a passport, can ask those attending NGOs who are based in Thailand. It was also recommended that for migrants that do apply for the temporary passport, they go in person and not believe offers made by brokers.

The Royal Thai Government set a deadline of February 2010 for migrants to complete the process of applying for temporary passports by using worker ID’s (that allow them to register legally as migrant laborers). However because many migrant laborers still do not have worker IDs in Thailand, the speaker from the Samut Sakorn Employment Office explained the organization has been seeking permission from the Royal Thai Government to allow more time for migrants to apply for ID.

Already, 2,000 migrant workers have already successfully applied for temporary passports in Thailand. The number of people with just worker IDs or temporary worker ID’s is much higher numbering approximately 161,982. It is unclear how many migrant workers are with out worker IDs, but under the current rules after February 2010, all migrants with out worker IDs and subsequently temporary passports, will be deported to Burma.

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