BWI OnLine – December 5, 2011

BUILDING AND WOODWORKERS INTERNATIONAL (BWI)


Voices of Mirgrant Workers Impacted by the Floods in Thailand

Thousands of migrant workers have been dramatically impacted by the recent floods in Thailand.  Many migrant workers are finding themselves exploited and cheated by Thai immigration officials, brokers, and employers who are taking advantage of the situation at the expense of these workers.  Here is one story of a Burmese migrant workers impacted by the floods:

STORY OF AUNG 

Aung is a 23 year old Myanmar migrant who was smuggled into Phuket in Southern Thailand to work from Kaw Thaung in Southern Myanmar during 2004. He paid around US$130 to enter Thailand. After working 3 different construction and hotel related jobs on the Southern island, Aung paid 4, 500 Baht (US$150) to be smuggled from Phuket to Bangkok to work at a car wash in 2011. His employer registered him when he arrived in Bangkok for a legal work permit. Aung eventually left this employer however after 3-4 months and started more construction work in Bangkok. When the floods arrived at his construction site in outer Northern Bangkok, the employer laid all of the workers off without assistance but paid all their back wages first. Aung then found another job at another car wash outside of the flooded area. However, within a few days, and as the workplaces Aung had worked in were close together, his previous employer who registered him saw Aung working at the different work site. 3 days later, this same employer returned with the police and arrested Aung and took him to the police station. The police did not investigate anything or ask Aung any questions but simply locked him up in a cell. The day after, despite possessing a work permit, Aung was transferred to the Immigration Detention Center in Bangkok where he was detained for 8 days in a cell with 150 other people and was given food that was so bad that it made him vomit. Aung was then transferred over night to Mae Sot Immigration Center on the Thai-Myanmar border. A day later, Aung and around 50 other workers were deported directly to Myanmar authorities on the newly opened Friendship Bridge separating Mae Sot and Myawaddy, at no cost.

Aung was offered the opportunity by the Myanmar officials of free onward travel to Pa An in Karen State but he did not want to go as he had no family there and no job opportunities. He therefore was allowed to leave freely by the Myanmar authorities and stayed for 2 days in Myawaddy city until he could get in contact with his sister who remained in Phuket. His sister asked him whether he wanted to remain in Myanmar or go back to Thailand and he said he wanted to work in Bangkok, as before. His sister then transferred 2, 000 Baht (US$70) to Aung for any emergency. Whilst in Myawaddy, Aung said there were many migrants returning from Thailand’s floods but most went immediately to their home towns inside of Myanmar. However, there were significant numbers of returned migrants also wandering around Myawaddy as they didn’t have enough money to do anything quickly. Aung met a broker in Myawaddy who agreed for 16, 000 Baht (US$530) to smuggle him back to his workplace in Bangkok again. As Aung didn’t have any money, he liaised with a friend in Bangkok by phone who found the 16, 000 Baht and transferred it to  a broker in Bangkok who arranged everything with another broker in Mae Sot.  Aung then paid around 120 Baht (US$4) to cross the river from Myawaddy to Mae Sot and then met up with a vehicle that would smuggle him to Bangkok.

Aung was smuggled to Bangkok in a 4 door pick-up truck. There was space for 4 people in the back of the truck compartment, but they had to sit on top of each other 4 people in one place, so there were a total of 12 people in the back of the one truck compartment meant for 4 only. Another 23 people were hidden at the back of the truck outside. Between Mae Sot and Bangkok, the truck stopped for a total of 1 hour only for rest. Aung’s journey to Bangkok to return after the flooding was safe as the car was not intercepted or inspected at checkpoints but there were so many people in such a small space that Aung said the journey was very uncomfortable for him as he could not breath properly. Once Aung arrived to Bangkok, the broker delivered him to his friends house as promised, as he had paid all the costs in advance. Aung’s sister paid his friend back the 16, 000 Baht that had been given as payment to the broker for bringing Aung to Bangkok.

Story provided by Andy Hall, Foreign Expert, Institute of Population and Social Research (IPSR), Mahidol University Consultant, Human Rights and Development Foundation

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STORY OF KO KO

Ko Ko is an 18 year old migrant worker from Mon state in Myanmar. He came to Thailand with his 23 year old sister several years ago to work and earn for their family’s survival as there was no work for them at home in Myanmar. Both Ko Ko and his sister worked selling vegetables at the Talaat Thai market in Rangsit, Pathum Thani (near Bangkok) from 10am to 8pm every day, with no paid holidays allowed. For their work, they were paid 350 Thai Baht per day (US$12). Ko Ko’s sister registered to work legally with their employer but Ko Ko’s employer could not assist him to also register.

When floods struck Pathum Thani in October 2011, Talaat Thai was badly hit and Ko Ko’s parents heard the news about this. He and his sister were ordered by their parents to go back to Myanmar until the flooding ended. They did not know what to do however as Ko Ko had no documents at all and Ko Ko’s sister only had registration receipts which did not allow her to travel from her province of employment. Then they heard from friends that brokers has started providing the return service home to Myanmar for both registered and unregistered workers at a cost of 3, 600 Baht per person (US$120) from the Rama 2 road area just outside Bangkok.

Ko Ko and his sister went to Rama 2 and found the broker who took payment and arranged their transport to the Thai-Myanmar border. They then boarded a small truck late at night (songthaew, bigger than pickup truck) which is often used to transport migrant workers short distances. The truck should hold around 20-30 people but was piled up with over 80 persons during the trip, meaning it was hard to breathe and was very uncomfortable for all inside. The truck travelled to the border throughout the night passing through checkpoints without inspection on the way. But as they came into Mae Sot on the border very early in the morning (it was still dark), the truck stopped at a final checkpoint and all workers had to get off and have their finger prints and photos taken by officials. After this, the truck passed through to the Thai-Myanmar border area (Mae Sot-Myawaddy), still in the dark. All the workers were put onto a boat to cross the small river into Myanmar, entering at a gate controlled by the Myanmar border forces in the Myawaddy area (gate 999). No money had to be paid by Ko Ko’s sister entering into Myanmar as all the charges were covered by the initial 3, 600 Baht payment but Ko Ko has to pay 2, 000 Kyat (US$3) as he did not have any documents at all.

When Ko Ko and his sister arrived in Myawaddy, they travelled to their home town by a public bus at a cost of around 15, 000 Kyat (US$20). They both stayed with their family for almost a month, during which time their family told them they should not return to Thailand again. However, they both wanted to return to Thailand to earn money to support their family so once they heard news that the flooding was started to subside in Pathum Thani, they contacted to brokers in their village who arranged transport for them both to return to Bangkok at a cost of 14, 500 Baht per person (around US$500). As neither of them had enough money to pay for the trip back to Thailand, they contacted their employer in Pathum Thani. The employer agreed to advance all the costs of the smuggling trip back to Thailand on the condition that once Ko Ko and his sister arrived back, they would pay the employer pack as soon as possible. The employer said she needed them both back ASAP.

 The journey from their house to the border and back to Bangkok was very uncomfortable. From Myawaddy to Mae Sot they travelled across the river in a boat which cost 500 Kyat (less than US$1), without any problems, and there they met the broker. The broker transported them to a van. The van they travelled in to Bangkok had only 11 seats but there were more than 30 people travelling. The van was not stopped and searched but passed freely through all checkpoints on the way to Bangkok.

Once Ko Ko and his sister arrived back to Talaat Thai, their employer met them and paid cash to the broker to cover the trip costs. They then began to work again immediately with their previous employer and have now to pay 200 baht (US$7) per day to their employer until the 14, 500 Baht debt is paid off. Ko Ko says he is waiting for the Thai Government to open a new registration so he can register to legally work in Thailand.

Story provided by Andy Hall, Foreign Expert, Institute of Population and Social Research (IPSR), Mahidol University Consultant, Human Rights  and Development Foundation

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STORY OF KO MYO

Ko myo is a 23 year old Burman migrant worker from Myanmar who has been in Thailand for many years working in construction. He has always remained undocumented. Ko Myo has always worked in the Greater Bangkok area.

When the floods hit Thailand, Ko myo was moved by his previous employer to Samut Prakan province to help the employer and other locals to protect their houses with large sand bags. He was provided a place to stay and food and also paid for this work. One day, as the flood waters rose in that area, the employer said he no longer needed Ko Myo. So after finishing work, he was walking outside to find friends and was then apprehended and arrested by the police. He was detained in a local police station cell for 2 days and then transferred to Immigration Detention Center in central Bangkok. He was detained for 7 days at IDC before being deported to the Thai-Myanmar border at Myawaddy-Mae Sot.

Ko myo returned to Myanmar relatively easily as the friendship bridge connecting the two countries had just been opened by Myanmar authorities for flood victims to cross over. He crossed through the bridge and was allowed to leave by officials to find some friends and relatives in Myawaddy.

Soon after arriving in Myawaddy, Ko myo crossed back over on a boat to the Mae Sot side of the border in Thailand for around 1 us dollar. As Kyo Myo and his friends had no money by now, they sat in a group and talked about how to get back to Bangkok to work. Eventually a broker came and told them they could have work at either a pineapple canning or fish canning factory near Bangkok. The broker said the fee for arranging this work was 12,000 baht (around 400 us dollars) but the workers could pay it back to the broker once they started working. Ko myo and his friends agreed to travel to Bangkok with this broker as they could not see other options for them.

Ko myo and his group of 13 people, with a guide, had to walk into the interior of Thailand via a jungle route for 7 days to avoid detection and a pick up car then picked them up at an unknown place. After a day of travel, Ko myo then found himself locked in a room near the ocean at a place he said was Ahchaung in Ranong province. He rang a myanmar worker charity from a phone his group kept secretly as he was scared and, in a hushed voice for fear of being discovered using the phone, asked for help. The charity explained that Ko Myo had been trafficked but if they alerted authorities Ko Myo would be taken into a shelter for trafficking victims and would have to stay there and assist authorities with prosecution, during which time he may be able work, or he would be deported back home to Myanmar. Either way, he would have to be deported back home eventually as he had illegally entered Thailand and had no documents. The charity also did not know exactly where Ko Myo was and neither did he himself.

The charity tried to contact Ko Myo for the next 1 day but the phone was switched off. Finally, after having been locked in that room for 3 days already, the agency managed to contact him again. Ko Myo then said that he had been convinced to go to work on a fishing boat. The charity said Ko Myo appeared intoxicated and also talked about having been provided with free ‘women’ the day before.

The charity tried to convince Ko Myo to escape and arranged for a victim who was freed from that kind of situation of trafficking onto a fishing boat to talk to Ko Myo on the phone but he would not listen anymore and said he had decided to go onto the boat to work.

Ko Myo can no longer be contacted as the phone is switched off and the charity assume he has started work, as a trafficking victim, on a fishing boat.

Story provided by Andy Hall, Foreign Expert, Institute of Population and Social Research (IPSR), Mahidol University Consultant, Human Rights  and Development Foundation

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