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Almost a million registered migrant workers from Burma, Cambodia and Laos now have a right to formally purchase and register motor vehicles in Thailand. However, because of officials’ discriminatory use and interpretation of laws and a lack of genuine respect for human rights, these migrants continue to be denied the right on national security grounds to drive these vehicles. Today a Shan migrant in Chiangmai Province has therefore filed a case against both the Department of Land Transport and Chiangmai Transport Office in Chiangmai’s Administrative Court to seek a ruling on migrants’ rights, in accordance with the 1979 Automobile Act, to apply for driving licenses. Today’s prosecution results from continued refusals by Chiangmai Transport Office since April 2009 to allow this worker to apply for a driving license.

Mr. Somchai Homlaor, HRDF’s Secretary General, said of today’s filing: “The right of a migrant to drive a vehicle is a basic social right. All human beings working in Thailand, whatever their nationality, should have this right. Discriminatorily denying rights to drive vehicles to registered migrants only further inconveniences their lives, whilst increasing opportunities for systematic corruption by State officials. Safety on our roads is undermined, and national security is in no way enhanced by the denial of this right.”

Since 2007, the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF) and Shan migrant groups in Chiangmai Province have lobbied the Royal Thai Government (RTG) to allow migrants to apply for driving licenses. HRDF and these migrant groups have continually attempted to explain to officials, both in Chiangmai and in Bangkok, of the necessity for migrants in Chiangmai to use motorbikes, as well as the problems migrants face given they cannot legally drive. Migrants continue to face fines, arrest and motorbike confiscation at the hands of Region 5 Police. Fines handed out to migrants by officers are higher than the 200 Baht faced by non-migrants, previously 1000 Baht per offence and now 500 Baht per offence. Migrants’ lives are detrimentally affected by this discriminatory denial of the right to “legally” ride motorbikes.

There has been some progress in RTG’s policy on minority group’s usage of motorbikes because of this campaign, however. On 14th October 2009 the Department of Land Transport issued circular KK0408/W244 allowing migrants to register ownership of vehicles. On 22nd March 2010 the Department of Land Transport then issued circular KK0408/W108 allowing an additional 14 groups of stateless and minority groups to apply for driving licenses. But despite these positive policy changes, migrants continue to be refused such motor vehicle license rights.

HRDF and migrant groups have urged the RTG to consider rights of migrants to vehicle licenses so as to reduce opportunities for corrupt officials to continue to profit from the necessity of migrants to use motorbikes in Chiangmai Province. Lobbying of police to reduce discriminatory fining practices has also been undertaken. Meetings have been arranged with related officials, including the most recent on 11th June 2010 in Chiangmai. However officials continue to insist this issue falls under the remit of Thailand’s National Security Council as it concerns primarily Thailand’s national security. The NSC has not yet issued an opinion favorable to migrants applying for vehicle licenses.

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