Deal struck with Burma on workers in Thailand
Thailand and Burma have agreed to speed up the nationality verification of Burmese workers despite the UN’s warning that the process could lead to human rights violations.
The two governments had jointly set up three registration stations along the border, said Labour Minister Paitoon Kaewthong, who met his Burmese counterpart Aung Kyi last week to discuss verifying the nationality of Burmese workers working in Thailand.
Each station, which could verify the nationality of 300 Burmese applicants a day, would be asked to process 1,000 applications a day, Mr Paitoon said.
Burma also agreed to look at a Thai proposal for Burmese officials to verify the nationality of Burmese workers on the Thai side of the border in Ranong during the monsoon season. Workers who travelled by boat to Burma’s Kawthaung islet to apply for nationality verification could put their safety at risk.
Mr Paitoon was confident nationality verification of all alien workers would be completed before the deadline.
In January, the cabinet passed a resolution allowing for a two-year extension of work permits for over one million migrants provided they were willing to submit biographical information to their home governments.
The workers are required to register to enter the nationality verification process before Feb 28. On a call by non-governmental organisations for Thailand to extend the verification deadline, Mr Paitoon said he could not make the decision alone. It was government policy to have all alien workers apply for national verification so they would become legal workers and be protected by the law.
Human rights activist Somchai Homlaor said the verification period must be extended as many illegal immigrants were not aware that they had to apply for nationality verification. Of about 1.1 million Burmese immigrants working in Thailand, about 200,000 had applied for verification, or only 20% of them.
Some people attempted to exploit legal loopholes to extort money from alien workers, and extending the deadline would help prevent such abuse.
A UN expert on the human rights of migrants, Jorge A Bustamante, on Thursday raised concerns about the nationality verification process in Thailand. He warned that its implementation may lead to forced deportation of many migrants, in breach of human rights obligations.
“A potentially large number of documented and undocumented migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia, and Lao face the threat of deportation from Thailand after Feb 28,” he said.
“The precarious situation of migrants in Thailand is exacerbated by the nationality verification process,” said the UN special rapporteur on migrants.
“Some of the groups who may be deported may be in need of international protection and should not be returned to their country of origin,” said Mr Bustamante.