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AIPMC calls on Thai authorities to protect basic rights of migrant workers and Rohingya asylum seekers

BANGKOK – The ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus today called on the Thai government to postpone a December 14 deadline for unregistered migrant workers to enrol with the authorities, and also urged the authorities to investigate claims of state officers’ involvement in human trafficking of desperate Rohingya refugees seeking to get to Malaysia.

The Thai government has said that an estimated 1.5 million unregistered migrant workers will be deported back to their home countries after the deadline passes on December 14. AIPMC is concerned for the welfare of these people. The “national verification” process, although initiated with good intentions, was unfortunately cumbersome, expensive, untransparent and rife with corruption.

“Migrant workers are the lifeblood of many Thai industries and many are here only because they have no opportunities for employment back home or are fleeing persecution or tyranny. Of course they should all be legally registered, for their own safety and interests as well, but this deadline is arbitrary and is not helpful; it will only force them further underground and make them even more susceptible to abuses and exploitation,” said Kraisak Choonhavan, Vice-President of AIPMC.

“The national verification system was hijacked by unscrupulous brokers and government staff have been accused of extorting money from illegal immigrants in return for the processing the paperwork. And the employers prevent the workers from registering, as its expensive and its in their interests to hire illegal workers, who are not protected by labour laws and normal citizenship rights. Under these conditions, the process does not offer a genuine opportunity for illegal immigrants to come forward to the authorities.”

AIPMC therefore calls on the Thai authorities to postpone this arbitrary deadline and work with ASEAN, the home governments of migrant communities, as well as local and international civil society organisations to develop a more equitable and achievable system that will see an end to exploitation of illegal migrants and full civil and political rights and labour protections.

AIPMC also calls on ILO Director General, Guy Ryder, who is in Thailand today, to impress upon the Thai government its duty to defend the rights of all migrant workers. A mass deportation will most likely lead to increased risks of rights abuses and exploitation by Thai state officers of illegal migrants and steps must be taken to avoid such abuses.

Thailand and neighbouring countries, particularly Myanmar and Cambodia, should fulfil the obligations set out in the ASEAN Declaration on the Rights of Migrant Workers and Their Families and international labour and human rights standards, and enter into regional and bilateral negotiations to address long-term regional migration challenges with the focus being on ensuring the protection of the human rights of migrant workers.

We are also concerned by reports from southern Thailand that human traffickers, in collaboration with Thai and Malaysian state officers, are exploiting Rohingya refugees fleeing persecution in Myanmar as they try to pass from Thailand to Malaysia. Press reports have suggested that hundreds of desperate Rohingya refugees are being held in inhuman conditions by traffickers demanding extortionate amounts to sneak them across the border into Malaysia, where they wish to seek asylum.

“That anyone could take advantage of these people in such desperate situations is deplorable and the relevant authorities should launch an immediate investigation into this practice and ensure the basic rights of these Rohingya are guaranteed,” said Eva Kusuma Sundari, AIPMC President and Indonesian MP.

“This is a humanitarian crisis and there are reports that more and more boats are leaving each day from Rakhine state. This is not just an issue for Thailand, Malaysia and Myanmar, but for the whole region and therefore a regional solution must be found to ensure the rights of the Rohingya are protected, both in Myanmar and abroad.”

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The ASEAN Inter-Parliamentary Myanmar Caucus (AIPMC) is a network formed in an inaugural meeting in Kuala Lumpur, on 26-28 November 2004 by and for parliamentarians from the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) countries. The aim is advocating for human rights and democratic reform in Myanmar/Burma.  Its members represent both the ruling and non-ruling political parties of countries such as Malaysia, Indonesia, Singapore, Thailand, Philippines and Cambodia.

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