ANROAV Statement on the Deaths of 54 Migrant Workers in Thailand, Prachathai English News

On the evening of 9th April 2008 in Southern Thailand, 54 migrant workers from Burma suffocated in a 6m x 2.2m refrigerated truck routinely used for carrying frozen seafood. These workers were being smuggled to the resort island of Phuket. Of the dead, 37 were female (including one eight-year-old girl) and 17 were male (including one boy). An additional 67 workers (14 of them under 18 years old and one pregnant woman) survived the incident. The 14 child survivors were separated from the adult survivors and have been kept in immigration detention in Ranong. All 53 adult survivors were sentenced by a local court for illegal entry and to a 2,000 baht (US$63) fine. As all but 4 of the adult survivors were unable to pay this fine, they were sentenced to imprisonment for 10 days. Now these 10 days have passed, the adult survivors, alongside the child survivors, are being kept in an immigration jail and have limited access to lawyers and other non-governmental assistance. The location of the 4 adult survivors who paid the court imposed fine is not known. Future arrangements for all other survivors, both adults and children, are also currently unclear.
The Asian Network for the Rights of Accident Victims (ANROAV), which is affiliated with the United Nations through its membership of the International Commission of Social Welfare, strongly condemns the globally reported manslaughter of Burmese migrant workers trying to find work in Thailand.

We abhor the economic social and political environment in Burma that makes such illegal migration necessary. While ANROAV expresses profound sadness at the loss of so many young lives and grieves with the families of the deceased, we will raise this matter at the highest level to ensure that those traveling to seek work and freedom from oppression can do so safely and with due process.

We insist that this incident be investigated thoroughly and transparently and urge the global media to continue its comprehensive reporting on the incident to closely follow up on all aspects of the story. We urge both the Royal Thai Government and the SPDC of Burma to ensure that the perpetrators of this crime are brought to justice – not merely the truck driver whose culpable behaviour could be interpreted as manslaughter, but the heads of such human trafficking gangs which we understand are linked to both Thai and Burmese officials and private business interests. We also urge that all victims immediately be provided with independent lawyers such as those from the Lawyers Council of Thailand.

We believe that a court-imposed charge that leads to the fining of traumatized workers is an act of abject inhumanity and inconsistent with the Buddhist values that Thailand espouses. This is a matter of national shame and we hope that Thailand uses this opportunity to clean up the well-known trafficking routes and gangs responsible.

These deaths were not unique although the scale of the tragedy was enough to draw the world’s attention. These deaths should be directly attributed to profound failings of officials of the Royal Thai Government and also the Burmese military junta.

The Burmese military junta has created a situation in Burma where large swathes of its population must flee for personal safety or in search of more prosperous economies to support themselves and their families. The junta has a profound lack of respect for human dignity and basic human rights that is well documented and known throughout the world. The junta continually refuses to acknowledge the crisis within its own borders and therefore refuses to regulate the mass migration of its citizens overseas. The junta stands knowingly by with closed eyes whilst others, including its own officials, organise for the trafficking, smuggling and illegal transportation of its citizens overseas in conditions such as evidenced on 9th April.

The Royal Thai Government must also be strongly condemned. Thailand has an economy dependent on the cheap labour of at least two million migrant workers, of which approximately 85% are from Burma. Migrant workers make up approximately 5% of the Thai workforce, toiling in the most dangerous, dirty and demeaning jobs within the seafood, construction, agriculture and garment industries. Thailand as a receiving country of so many migrants has an obligation to promote and protect the rights of these workers, both in terms of their working conditions, but more importantly their right to life.
The Thai State has failed in its obligation to protect the right to life of migrant workers as a result of the 9th April incident and the death of these 54 migrant workers. The Thai Government has acknowledged that as few as 25% of all migrants currently within its borders are registered because of a failed, complex and inflexible migrant registration system. An economy that relies so heavily on a continuous import of foreign labour from its neighbouring countries but yet creates a situation where these workers cannot legally register to work can rightfully be seen as a nation failing to address the illegal trafficking, smuggling and transportation of workers into and within its border.

ANROAV recommends both short-term and long-term measures the Royal Thai Government should undertake to seek to address root causes of the 9th April tragedy as follows:
1. The deportation of all surviving victims must immediately be halted until an inquiry into the incident is complete, to ensure perpetrators of this incident are brought to justice;
2. Surviving victims of this incident and dependents of the deceased should be provided with immediate access to independent lawyers and adequate compensation for deaths and injuries;
3. The Thai Government should immediately initiate an open and transparent inquiry into this incident in which the involvement of private companies as well as related State agencies in trafficking, smuggling and illegal transportation activities should in particular be explored;
4. The government’s registration system for migrant workers must immediately be overhauled to make it more effective and transparent. In association with civil society and employers, the government must create a system that accepts the economic necessity and benefit of migrant workers for Thailand. The government must therefore cease to shortsightedly consider only national security aspects of migration and seek to limit opportunities for both its own officials, private individuals and the Burmese military junta’s to engage in trafficking, smuggling and illegal transportation operations.

The Thai State and its neighbours must work hand in hand with civil society, employers and related international agencies to ensure a repeat of the horrific 9th April incident can never occur again. The successful management of migrant workers will bring greater benefits for the Thai economy and at the same time respect the basic human rights of all migrant workers.

1. Asian Network for the Rights of Occupational Accident Victims (ANROAV) – Hong Kong, China
2. Asia Monitoring Resource Centre (AMRC) – Hong Kong, China
3. Migrant Working Group (MWG) – Bangkok, Thailand
4. Federation of Trade Unions Burma (FTUB)
5. Seafarers Union of Burma (SUB)
6. Hong Kong Federation of Trade Unions – Hong Kong, Thailand
7. Globalization Monitor – May Wong, Hong Kong, China
8. ITUC/GUF/HKCTU Hong Kong Liaison Office (IHLO), China
9. Ziteng – Hong Kong, China
10. Rohit Prajapati, Swati Desai and Paryavaran Suraksha Samiti – Gujarat, India
11. Youth for Social Change – Jeny Dolly , Chennai
12. Labour Rights Promotion Network (LPN) – Thailand
13. Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma (TACDB) – Thailand
14. Ban Asbestos Network of India (BANI) – Gopal Krishna, India
15. OSHAID International – John Ninness, Australia
16. Dr Sean Foley: Environmental and Land Use Adviser – Vientiane Lao PDR
17. Melody Kemp: Labour Educator and Journalist – Vientiane Lao PDR
18. Action Network for Migrants – Thailand
19. Thai Labour Solidarity Committee – Thailand
20. State Enterprise Workers Relation Confederation Committee (SERC) – Sawit Kaewan, Secretary General, Bangkok, Thailand
21. Om Noi/Om Yai Workers Area Group – Sangun Khunsont, Bangkok, Thailand
22. Women Workers Unity Group – Bangkok, Thailand
23. International Transport Workers’ Federation (ITF) – Bangkok, Thailand
24. Corporate Accountability Desk of The Other Media – Madhumita Dutta, India
25. Collective for Environmental, Social and Economic Justice – Nityanand Jayaraman, India
26. Occupational Health and Safety Centre – Dr Murlidhar V, Mumbai, India
27. Workright Union Hong Kong Trade Union for Rights-Based NGO Workers – Hong Kong, China
28. Japan Occupational Safety and Health Resource Center (JOSHRC) – Japan
29. Australia Asia Workers Links – Gwynnyth Evans and Cathy Butcher, Australia
30. Hazards UK – Rory O’Neill, Professor Occupational and Environmental Health Research Group University of Stirling Scotland, London UK
31. London Hazards Centre (LHC) – London, UK
32. Union of Autonomous Trade Unions of Croatia (UATUC), Croatia
33. Solidarity for Worker’s Health – Seoul, Korea
34. Sheffield And Rotherham Asbestos Group (SARAG) – Paula Walker, UK
35. Unison – Dave Knight, UK
36. Hazards Centre – Danu Roy, Delhi, India
37. Building and Wood Workers International (BWI) – Jin Sook Lee, South Korea
38. Building and Wood Workers International (BWI) – Anup Srivastava, Delhi, India
39. Celeste Monforton MPH, Professor, The George Washington University – United States
40. Herbert Docena – Phillipines
41. International Federation of Journalists
42. International Council on Social Welfare – Denys Correll (Executive Director), Netherlands
43. Foundation for Labour and Employment Promotion – Poonsap S. Tulaphan, Thailand
44. Paul Jobin, Assistant Professor University of Paris Diderot – France
45. Campaign Committee for Human Rights – Thailand
46. Worker Assistance Center – Philippines
47. Global Alliance Against Trafficking in Women (GAATW) – Thailand
48. The Irrawaddy – Sai Silp, Thailand
49. Building and Wood Workers International (BWI) – Anita Normark, General Secretary, Global
50. Building and Wood Workers International (BWI) – Fiona Murie, Director OHS, Global
51. Network Labour North – Chiangmai, Thailand
52. PAO Magazine – Mr. Thomas, Bangkok, Thailand
53. R. A. L. G. Thailand – Sugarnta Sookpaita, Prathum Thani, Thailand
54. Human Rights and Development Foundation, Thailand
55. Northern Informal Worker Network c/o The Sustainable Alternative Development Association – Chiang Mai, Thailand
56. Kevin Hewison, Professor, Department of Asian Studies/Director Carolina Asia Center University of North Carolina – Chapel Hill USA
57. Maquiladora Health & Safety Support Network – Garrett Brown (MPH, CIH), Coordinator, Berkeley, CA USA
58. Scottish Hazards Campaign – Scotland, UK
59. Joan S. Geiger PT MOccH, Ergonomic Consultant ErgoCare – Tel Aviv, Israel
60. Dennis Arnold, PhD Student University of North Carolina-Chapel Hill – Chapel Hill, USA
61. Jim Glassman – Vancouver, Canada
62. Tyrell Haberkorn – Hamilton, New York, USA
63. Hathairat Suda – Bangkok, Thailand
64. Anoop Sukumaran – Bangkok, Thailand
65. Van Thu Ha – Hanoi, Vietnam
66. Canadian Autoworkers Union (CAW) – Toronto, Canada
67. Thai Regional Alliance in Hong Kong – Bungon Tamasorn, Hong Kong, China
68. Thai Volunteer Service – Jon Ungphakorn, Bangkok, Thailand
69. Environmental Litigation and Advocacy for the Wants (EnLAW) – Thailand
70. Centre for Aids Rights – Thailand
71. Friends of Women Foundation – Thailand
72. International Campaign for Responsible Technology – Ted Smith, San Jose, California, USA
73. Mahidol University – Sriprapha Petchararmesree, Bangkok, Thailand
74. Labour Action China – China
75. Cross Cultural Foundation – Thailand
76. Hong Kong Coalition for a Free Burma – Hong Kong, China
77. Christian Solidarity Worldwide – Hong Kong, China
78. Asia Pacific Mission for Migrants, Hong Kong
79. Herbert Docena – Manila, Philippines