A migrants’ support agency has reported allegations of official mistreatment of migrant workers in Thailand ranging from payments to police in return for their release from custody, constant “humiliating” police harassment, to the rape of women detainees by Thai Army Rangers.
The 234-page-report was prepared by the Mekong Migration Network and released at a press conference at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club in Bangkok last week.
It focused on the issue of arrest, detention, deportation, return and reintegration of migrants in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS).
The report described how arrests of migrant workers in Thailand can happen at any time, day or night. Migrant workers constantly run the risk of arrest while at home, in their workplace, during their leisure time or while visiting places of worship.
Even at temples, migrants were not free from arrest. During October 2006, in Chiang Mai several hundred were detained by police while attending temples to celebrate the end of Lent, the report said.
Local Thais expressed their displeasure through a local website, saying immigration official should respect the sanctity of temples and not make arrests during religious ceremonies.
One Cambodian migrant fisherman in Rayong province told researchers most arrests of fishermen began around midnight, as officials believed they would not create so much commotion if undertaken at night.
However, the majority of migrants reported being offered the opportunity to pay for their release following an arrest, usually before they were taken to the police station.
The amount they were asked to pay varied between Bt200 and Bt5,000, with an average of around Bt1,000.
In some cases women had their hair cut by police. Migrants reported cases of immigration officers in Tak province’s Mae Sot district cutting women’s hair and shaving men’s heads, saying the migrants would then be recognised if they tried to return to Thailand after being deported.
For Burmese women whose long hair is part of their cultural make-up, having it cut in such an undignified manner is extremely humiliating.
Full body searches of migrant women during arrest in isolated areas by male officials is clearly inappropriate and open to abuse, the report said.
It said women migrants in isolated border areas remained particularly vulnerable to abuse. In Mae Sot young women had complained the body searches were physically intrusive and abusive. In 1999, a group of women from Burma were abused similarly in a small hut in the same province.
On 12 July 1999, a group of 50 illegal migrant workers from Burma were being deported near Ban Lan village, west of Chiang Mai’s Phang district. The migrants were put under the care of the Thai Army Rangers at Ban Lan.
The officer in charge separated 11 women from the group, and then ordered his men to take the rest of the migrants to the Nong Tao border point nearby. The report charges he took the women one by one into his room and physically molested each one, raping two of them.
Migrants registered with the authorities and holding a valid migrant workers’ card are required to carry this card with them at all times. The migrant workers’ card confers limited legal rights. While Thai citizens are fined for not carrying their national ID card, migrants lose their legal status in Thailand if they are caught without their card, leading directly to their arrest, detention and deportation.
The migrant workers’ card is only valid as an immigration document when the arresting authority can verify the migrant works for the employer named on the card, and in the type of work and geographic area designated on the card.
In order to combat human rights violations experienced by migrants, the Mekong Migration Network’s chairperson, Jackie Pollock urged the Thai government and others in the Greater Mekong Subregion to eliminate situations which can lead to abusive and exploitative working conditions and leave migrants vulnerable to arrest, detention and deportation.
She asked authorities to reform the procedures to ensure migrant workers treatment is humane, transparent and subject to legal oversight.
This report was a third edition in the series Migration in the Greater Mekong Subregion : Resource Book (1st edition published in 2002; 2nd edition in 2005) and is in response to rapidly changing issues relating to migration in the subregion, including changes to legislation and policy relating to migration.
In Thailand, the number of unregistered migrants from Burma, Cambodia and Laos is not known, but the estimate suggests that at any one time there are between 800,000 and 1.2 million unregistered migrants present in Thailand.
By Pongphon Sarnsamak