Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants’Trade Union statement submitted to Department of Labor Affairs, Royal Thai Embassy

Dear Minister-Counselor of Labor, Mrs. Yaowaluck Youngyuen:

We, the Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants’Trade Union, are greatly saddened and alarmed to hear of the tragic incident which led to the death of 54 migrant workers and injury of many more only a few days ago.

On 10 April 2008, 54 migrants including 37 women (one girl) and 17 men (one boy) from Burma suffocated to death in the back of a truck while being smuggled into the resort island of Phuket. It is reported that of the 67 survivors 21 were hospitalized and the rest detained because of their ‘illegal entry’ into Thailand. The migrant workers were being transported crammed into the back of a deliver truck normally used for carrying seafood.

We believe that this incident is testimony to the inadequate policy of the Thai government with regards to migrant workers. It is well known roughly 2 millionmigrant workers from the neighboring countries of Burma, Lao PDR and Cambodia are working in Thailand and contributing to the Thai economy by taking jobs shunned by native workers. The majority of these migrants are forced to enter illegally or overstay legal visas due to the high costs and insufficiency of legal avenues for migration. What is more, while the Thai government did carry out a legalization process in 2005, its policy has been completely inadequate to provide for all the undocumented migrants in a manner respectful of their human rights. Instead, they face crackdown and deportation. Documented migrants face severe restrictions on their mobility as well as abuses by their employers and lack of social protection.This is the context in which the April 10th tragedy occurred and it is clear that the government’s policy, which does not respect the rights of migrant workers, is its root cause.

We are particularly horrified at the way the Thai authorities have acted in the aftermath of the incident. Survivors were imprisoned and then sentenced to fines or jail terms and finally deportation. Rather than being punished, these people should be given medical and psychological treatment and compensation by the Thai government. It is no wonder that the measures of the Thai authorities have sparked wide criticism from international human rights organizations.

As a union created by and for migrant workers regardless of visa status, we recognize that labor migration is an unavoidable phenomenon and that migrant workers contribute to economies around the world. As such, we believe it is the responsibilities of governments to respect and protect the human and labor rights of migrant workers, whether documented or undocumented and, beyond this to create policies that make possible legal and safe migration. The policy of the Thai government and its actions with regards this tragedy are a blatant violation of these principles.

We call on the Royal Thai Government to make proper reparations to the victims of the April 10th tragedy. Further we urge that the Government to revise its attitude and polices towards migrant workers in such a manner that respects their labor rights and human rights, including the right to freedom of movement.

In conclusion, we urge the Thai Consulate to pressure your Government to:

1.         Free all survivors of the April 10th tragedy and provide them proper medical and psychological.        Provide compensation to the injured and families of the deceased.

2.         Create a broader system of legal entry and legalization for undocumented migrant.

3.         Implement policies that respect the right to freedom of movement of migrant workers and                 protection for their human and labor rights.

4.         Stop criminalizing migrant workers.

Respectfully yours,

Seoul-Gyeonggi-Incheon Migrants’Trade Union