Thailand:39 Enslaved Burmese Migrant Workers Escape

39 enslaved Burmese Migrant Workers in Victory Monument (Ahnusawarli), near downtown Bangkok were saved on April 19, 2011 by the Royal Government of Thailand’s Anti-Human Trafficking Division (AHTD) with cooperation from the Burmese Association of Thailand (BAT).In order to free the workers the special officers had to climb ladders and cut locks to reach an apartment in which the workers were held against their will.These workers had been forcibly employed by the Thai employer and held captive in a small apartment in a locked factory at the corner of Yachardar Road and Tusawar Road in Bangkok. The employer is Chinese and Shan ethnicity, and her husband is a Chinese citizen.

The freed Burmese migrant workers were forced to work a minimum of 20 hours each day in a locked apartment with no days off of work. Dues to the conditions imposed upon them, over time the workers’ health had begun to deteriorate.

One of victims, Mrs. Thwe, a resident of Kawkarid Township, Burma said that “I attempted to run away from this factory before but I could not escape because my body was too weak. I fell down on the ground while running and was captured and arrested. I tired to run away from my job again but my boss used the Thai Police to catch me. I had to pay a 5000 Thai Baht (170 US$) fine. I had been in this job since August of 2010 and was never paid my wages. Now, I breathe free air. I am so delighted to go back to my country that I even forget to eat. I really appreciate the members of the Burmese Association of Thailand for this assistance”.

The same Mrs. Thwe first contacted the BAT regarding this case on March 28, 2011. Initially BAT was unable to locate the factory because it had been given an incorrect address. On April 4, 2011 two employees, Mr Nyi Nyi Tin and Phyo Wai Oo, were able to make contact with BAT. They were able to communicate while dumping rubbish.

On April 11 and 12, 2011  with assistance from one of those workers, Phyo Wai Oo,  the AHTD officers and members from the BAT were able to  locate the factory and obtain essential information concerning the building layout. With the necessary information in hand, the AHTD officers waited to implement their operational plan until after the Songkran Holiday. Armed with an appropriate warrant the police officers started their operation at 12 am April 19 2011.

After the successful raid the BAT’s president, Mr Kyaw Thaung said, “Due to their very long confinement workers had difficulty identifying or accurately describing their exact location. We tried many times in the past to locate this factory but we were always unsuccessful. Only because of the information provided by Mr Phyo Wai Oo were we able to obtain the actual location.. These workers wanted to be freed   from their captivity before they were released. Now they are free. Once freed they did not want to be sent back to Burma because they will have to pay over 2000 Thai Baht to Myanmar authorities in Myawaddy if they return. I am really sorry for that.” Some workers are worried that they will not be able to pay back their debt when they are deported back to Burma. Although they are being deported to Burma it is expected that almost all will try to come back to Thailand.

After being released workers were sent to different locations for different reasons. 20 Burmese migrant workers who had just begun working at this factory were transferred to the police station in Dain Del but because they were not aware of their employer’s exploitation of the workers they were unable to furnish any specific information on that issue. 14 senior workers who have been working there for many years confirmed their terrible treatment by the employer. Because of their condition, 9 female workers were sent to the Women’s Relief Center in Nuhtaburi. The remaining employees, a couple and their relatives, were sent to the Relief Center in Phahounharni to receive necessary attention.

The employer and five supervisors who support participated in the actions are being investigated by the AHTD officers.

The FED’s director, Mr Htoo Chit also advised, “The imprisoned workers contacted me when they arrived at Mr Kyaw Thaung’s place at the BAT. Based upon my experience over the years I had several thoughts about how to save the workers. While there are many UN organizations in Thailand, they are not very experienced in matters such as this. So I suggested that BAT should seek assistance from and on this matter. The achievement is due to the cooperation of worker, the BAT and the Thai Government. I would like to encourage Burmese workers to unite and cooperate with each other in Thailand”.

Htoo Chit also commented, “The Burmese Migrant Workers in Thailand suffer further difficulties because of the very slow process for their deportation to Burma by both the Thai and Myanmar governments…The government of Myanmar has recently begun to work with the Thai government to address this issue. I think they can and should do more.”

The World Vision, BAT and FED, which are based in Phang Nga Province, are monitoring the safe return of these migrant workers to Burma. It is hoped that the complete return will be completed in the near future.

Due to civil war and human rights violations in Burma (Myanmar) many thousands of Burmese migrants work in Thailand. Thousands of Burmese migrants have worked work in Thailand for nearly two decades under conditions akin to slavery in a number of industries such as fishing, garment production, toy manufacture and sex.

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