Phnom Penh Post: Thais clarify order to deport

A THAI labour ministry official on Tuesday elaborated on new measures for processing illegal migrant workers, saying those sent to a “special centre” mentioned in a June 2 government order signed by the Thai prime minister, including potentially tens of thousands of Cambodians, would be deported if they lacked proper documentation.

The establishment of the facility – described in the order as a “special centre to suppress, arrest and prosecute workers who are working underground” – had prompted criticism from rights groups, who expressed concern that the workers would be punished beyond simply being deported.

Supat Guukhun, deputy director general of the employment office at the Thai ministry of labour, said Sunday that migrants sent to the centre would be prosecuted “if the case is made criminal”.

On Tuesday, however, he said the status of the migrants would be investigated, and that those found to be illegal would be deported to their home countries, where they could enter into a process of nationality verification announced earlier this year. Under that process, workers are to submit documents to their home governments to secure new work permits in Thailand.

“The special centre allows migrants to come to register, and the second step is to apply for nationality verification,” Supat said. “They must have documents to allow them to work in this country; otherwise they will be deported.”

The comments from Supat came as the Mekong Migration Network (MMN), an umbrella organisation for migrant support NGOs that has offices in Hong Kong and Chiang Mai, released a statement calling for the June 2 order, number 125/2553, to be revoked, saying it could expose migrants to violent attacks from authorities.

“During 2010 alone there have already been 23 reported deaths of migrant workers resulting from acts of suppression,” says the statement, which cites a March attack in which nine migrants were killed and 19 seriously injured as police in Petchburi province fired on their truck.

“We fear that these deaths and injuries will multiply if the policy to suppress and arrest migrants [continues].”

The statement also calls for the nationality-verification process – the deadline for which was March 2 – to be reopened, and for the Thai government to assist migrants in complying with it.

In a statement released Monday, the Bangkok-based Human Rights Development Foundation also called for the Thai government to “urgently revoke its crackdown policy on unregistered migrants” and to reopen the nationality-verification process.

Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn referred questions to the Thai Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Thani Thongpakdi, deputy spokesman for the ministry, declined to answer questions over the phone and had not responded to emailed questions as of press time.

A spate of large-scale raids and arrests of migrants have been reported in the past week.

On Monday, the Thai news service Daily News Online reported that a total of 629 illegal migrant workers – including 165 Cambodians – were detained between last Thursday and Monday in a series of raids on markets and factories in Pathum Thani province.

A report from the Mass Communications Organisation of Thailand on Tuesday said that 60 illegal migrant workers in Songkhla province were detained over the weekend. No breakdown of nationalities was provided, but the report said many were believed to be from Myanmar.

Reports earlier this week said more than 400 Cambodian migrant workers had been detained throughout Thailand as of Sunday, including 307 in Bangkok.

Laddawan Tamafu, advocacy and capacity building officer for MMN, said on Tuesday that all of those detained in Bangkok had since been deported.

“The approximately 300 arrested Cambodian migrants were deported back to their home country on June 18-19 through the Aranyaprathet immigration office in [Sa Kaeo province] and passed to Poipet,” she said via email.

Hun Hean, Banteay Meanchey’s provincial police commissioner, said he did not know about the 307 migrants, but noted that at least 150 deportees are typically received at the Poipet gate each day.

“Actually, Cambodian officials at the Poipet border checkpoint receive between 150 and 200 each day from Thai authorities,” he said.

“When Thai authorities catch them, they only return them through the Poipet gate.”

Wednesday, 23 June 2010 15:03 Cameron Wells and Cheang Sokha