Urgent Appeal for Protection of Burmese Migrant Worker Survivors of the 9th April 2008 Ranong Tragedy

MMN and other NGOs submitted a joint open letter to the Prime Minister.

April 22, 2008

Urgent Appeal for Protection of Burmese Migrant Worker Survivors of the 9th April 2008 Ranong Tragedy

To: The Prime Minister of Thailand
Cc: Minister of Interior
Minister of Labour
Minister of Justice
Minister of Foreign Affairs
Minister of Social Development and Human Security
Minister of Public Health
Attorney General
Acting Commissioner-General Royal Thai Police
Commander of Foreign Affairs and the International Crime Office
Myanmar’s Ambassador to Thailand
Commissioner, Immigration Bureau
Director-General, Department of Special Investigation
Chairperson, National Human Rights Commission of Thailand

The tragic deaths of 54 migrant workers who suffocated in a container of a truck in the late evening of 9th April 2008 in Suksumran District, Rayong Province has been widely reported in domestic and international media. 46 of the survivors of this incident have been charged with illegal entry into Thailand despite experiencing trauma and hardship as a result of their involvement in this horrific incident.

Deaths of migrant workers in such circumstances are not rare. In the last year alone, there have been at least 10 cases in which in total more than 100 migrants have died during transportation process into and within Thailand. All migrant workers are at risk of serious harm, abuse or even death in Thailand. But migrant workers from Burma are particularly at risk as many Burmese are fleeing political unrest in their native country.

The Royal Thai Government’s (RTG) current migrant management policies limits the opportunities for people to legally and safely register to formally access the Thai labour market. The current registration system restricts the means of gaining legal status thereby forcing migrant workers to depend on dangerous and informal means to seek employment in Thailand.

The RTG has attempted to provide a channel for legal entry of migrant workers such as through the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between Thailand and Burma. Unfortunately this process remains impractical and ineffective. For example, MOU’s include procedures for nationality verification that have proven difficult to implement given the political situation in Burma. The MOU between Thailand and Lao and between Thailand and Cambodia have created highly bureaucratic systems resulting in high registration fees which prove prohibitive to migrant workers.

Recently, provincial decrees have further restricted the rights of migrant workers. Migrant workers are as a result exposed to abuse as their movement is severely restricted, their access to social services are undermined and many are left vulnerable to the whims of employers since they are unable to easily change employment. This policy environment creates opportunities for corrupt brokers and others involved in the exploitation of migrant workers to benefit from the migrant workers situation.

In this current case involving 54 dead migrant workers, the RTG has a responsibility to regard the survivors as victims of a crime and not to categorize them as criminals. Rather than summarily deport surviving workers to Burma, the migrants are one crucial part of ongoing efforts to bring this case before the Thai justice system.

We collectively express deep regret about the deaths of these 54 migrant workers and the ongoing risk of deportation of these survivors. We call on the RTG to take the following immediate action:

• Investigate this case fully and charge all parties involved in entire chains of human trafficking with conspiracy to a crime. Individuals must be held to account according to Thai law;

• Immediately halt any deportation of survivors. Surviving migrants should receive proper medical care and should be allowed to recuperate in a medical facility and receive psychosocial support;

• Ensure that proper shelter is provided to all survivors under supervision of the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security. The survivor’s protection and well-being must be safeguarded during the entire process of investigation of this case through the Thai justice system. Also, the government must ensure the provision of legal assistance, including representation of the victims by lawyers from independent organizations;

• Ensure that the survivors and dependents of the 54 dead migrants should be treated as victims who are thus eligible to receive compensation,
legal assistance and access to the Thai justice system;

• Review the RTG migrant management policies and consider the following:

1. The opportunity for migrant workers to register should be available throughout the year;

2. One-stop registration services should be devised to simplify the registration process;

3. A no-tolerance stance should be taken on corruption to prevent trafficking; and

4. Migrants must be allowed access to the Thai justice system.

We firmly believe that there is a crucial and necessary role for civil society working hand in hand with the RTG to solve the challenges of migration in ways which are sustainable and in ways which protect the rights and dignity of all human beings. Migrant workers are not a national security threats but are in fact actively contributing to Thailand’s development and economy.

Thai Labour Solidarity Committee (TLSC)
State Enterprise Worker’s Federation of Thailand (SERC)
Electricity and Electronic Workers’ Federation of Thailand
Worker Union Group of Om-noi and Om-yai Areas
Worker Union Group of Rangsit Areas
Women Workers’ Unity Group (WWUP)
Transport Workers’ Federation Thailand (ITF-Thailand)
Migrant Working Group (MWG)
Action Network for Migrants (ANM)
Federated Trade Union of Burma (FTUB)
Mekong Migration Network (MMN)
Foundation for AIDS’ Rights (FAR)
The Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF)
Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma (TACDB)
Campaign Committee for Human Rights (CCHR)
The Asian Network for the Rights of Accident Victims (ANROAV)
Labour Rights Promotion Network (LPN)
Sampran Anti-Trafficking Network
Thai Labour Campaign (TLC)
Peace Building and Integration Culture in Andaman Project
Women Foundation
MAP Foundation
Peaceway Foundation (Burma Issues)

Coordination office:
503/20 Nikhom Makkasan Road, Rachathewi, Bangkok, 10400, Tel/fax: 02-654-768
Website: www.unithailand.org, Webblog : http//solidarity.blogth.com