Thousands of migrant workers have been dramatically impacted by the recent floods in Thailand. In addition to the consequences of the natural disaster, many migrant workers are finding themselves exploited and cheated by Thai immigration officials, brokers, and employers who are taking advantage of the situation at the expense of these workers. Here is one story of a Burmese migrant workers impacted by the floods:
Aung is a 23 year old Myanmar migrant who was smuggled into Phuket in Southern Thailand to work from Kaw Thaung in Southern Myanmar during 2004. He paid around US$130 to enter Thailand. After working 3 different construction and hotel related jobs on the Southern island, Aung paid 4, 500 Baht (US$150) to be smuggled from Phuket to Bangkok to work at a car wash in 2011. His employer registered him when he arrived in Bangkok for a legal work permit. Aung eventually left this employer however after 3-4 months and started more construction work in Bangkok. When the floods arrived at his construction site in outer Northern Bangkok, the employer laid all of the workers off without assistance but paid all their back wages first. Aung then found another job at another car wash outside of the flooded area. However, within a few days, and as the workplaces Aung had worked in were close together, his previous employer who registered him saw Aung working at the different work site. 3 days later, this same employer returned with the police and arrested Aung and took him to the police station. The police did not investigate anything or ask Aung any questions but simply locked him up in a cell. The day after, despite possessing a work permit, Aung was transferred to the Immigration Detention Center in Bangkok where he was detained for 8 days in a cell with 150 other people and was given food that was so bad that it made him vomit. Aung was then transferred over night to Mae Sot Immigration Center on the Thai-Myanmar border. A day later, Aung and around 50 other workers were deported directly to Myanmar authorities on the newly opened Friendship Bridge separating Mae Sot and Myawaddy, at no cost.
Aung was offered the opportunity by the Myanmar officials of free onward travel to Pa An in Karen State but he did not want to go as he had no family there and no job opportunities. He therefore was allowed to leave freely by the Myanmar authorities and stayed for 2 days in Myawaddy city until he could get in contact with his sister who remained in Phuket. His sister asked him whether he wanted to remain in Myanmar or go back to Thailand and he said he wanted to work in Bangkok, as before. His sister then transferred 2, 000 Baht (US$70) to Aung for any emergency. Whilst in Myawaddy, Aung said there were many migrants returning from Thailand’s floods but most went immediately to their home towns inside of Myanmar. However, there were significant numbers of returned migrants also wandering around Myawaddy as they didn’t have enough money to do anything quickly. Aung met a broker in Myawaddy who agreed for 16, 000 Baht (US$530) to smuggle him back to his workplace in Bangkok again. As Aung didn’t have any money, he liaised with a friend in Bangkok by phone who found the 16, 000 Baht and transferred it to a broker in Bangkok who arranged everything with another broker in Mae Sot. Aung then paid around 120 Baht (US$4) to cross the river from Myawaddy to Mae Sot and then met up with a vehicle that would smuggle him to Bangkok.
Aung was smuggled to Bangkok in a 4 door pick-up truck. There was space for 4 people in the back of the truck compartment, but they had to sit on top of each other 4 people in one place, so there were a total of 12 people in the back of the one truck compartment meant for 4 only. Another 23 people were hidden at the back of the truck outside. Between Mae Sot and Bangkok, the truck stopped for a total of 1 hour only for rest. Aung’s journey to Bangkok to return after the flooding was safe as the car was not intercepted or inspected at checkpoints but there were so many people in such a small space that Aung said the journey was very uncomfortable for him as he could not breath properly. Once Aung arrived to Bangkok, the broker delivered him to his friends house as promised, as he had paid all the costs in advance. Aung’s sister paid his friend back the 16, 000 Baht that had been given as payment to the broker for bringing Aung to Bangkok.
Story provided by Andy Hall, Foreign Expert, Institute of Population and Social Research (IPSR), Mahidol University Consultant, Human Rights and Development Foundation