The issue of alien laborers has become a national problem
in Thailand and the government’s attempts to solve it apparently are not
working. Alien laborers and migrants have been fortunate to escape the
oppression of the Burmese military regime only to be faced with suppression
from the Thai police and government and unfair treatment by Thai society.
at the hut in Kon Nguen Song slum, which she rents for 300 baht a month,
with her 3-year-old child (right) and 5-month-old baby (left) who has a
deformed left foot. Six people live there. She cannot afford medical
treatment for her baby’s foot.
Taking the Burmese as an example, Burmese migrants make
up the largest group numerically compared with Laotian and Cambodian
refugees in the country. Between 80-90 percent of them previously lived in
areas beset by civil wars, and the Burmese military regime regularly
relocates the dwellers, according to Sansern Dongdee, coordinator of the
Migrant Assistance Program (MAP) Foundation.
general life of slum people
“Most Burmese migrants will tell you they did not
really want to move to Thailand, where they suffer indignities. However,
because of the many hardships they encountered in Myanmar, they felt they
did not have any other choice,” Sansern says from his experience in
working with a number of migrants.
laborers and migrants live in unhealthy conditions in the middle of garbage.
“The fact that whole families moved to settle and
struggle in Thailand is evidence of their unbearable feelings towards their
living conditions in Myanmar.”
Kon Nguen Song slum where the migrants have to pay monthly rent of between
300-600 baht, with no electricity, water or other basic facilities.
Some attempts that the Thai government and Ministry of
Labor have instituted to control the alien laborers seem to be misguided.
For instance, registration has become a burden for them and increases their
suffering, reckons Sansern. “The registration fee of 3,800 baht is very
high for alien laborers, who earn their living in low paid jobs that Thais
shun. That is a whole month’s wages to pay for the registration fee, with
no money left over even for daily meals.”
garbage and standing water leave a stench at the Kon Nguen Song slum.
Orachorn Rattanamanee, head of Chiang Mai Employment
Services Office said she did not agree that the registration fee was
exorbitant. In fact, it was “very worthwhile” for the laborers since
they would get benefits in health treatment and a legal work permit for a
year after being registered.
She added that the Thai government meant well with its
actions. “For instance, it allows alien migrants to stay in the kingdom
for a year to seek jobs before they register with the government, which
shows it is benevolent enough.”
condition of the slum toilets. Only six toilets are provided for 250
By law, alien laborers are restricted to eight types of
jobs, as housekeepers, agricultural and livestock laborers, water
transportation laborers, construction workers, rice mill workers, mine
laborers, fishermen and fishery laborers.
On average, female alien laborers earn between 80-120
baht a day, while male alien laborers earn between 120-150 baht. This is
contrary to Thai labor law, which stipulates a minimum daily remuneration of
140 baht. Even though many migrant workers are familiar with the labor
legislation, they cannot complain because the language barrier prevents them
from approaching government officials.
While they face major obstacles and are hunted down by
immigration and other authorities, alien laborers are in great demand by
Thai employers. One of the easiest ways of cutting overheads is to employ
alien laborers who do not have any alternative and meekly accept low paid
Commenting on the Memorandum of Understanding signed with
the Burmese government to allow the issuing of passports for two year work
permits for its migrants, one Burmese, who is a staff member of the MAP
Foundation, says that she and other Burmese migrants are concerned whether
the Burmese military regime will vouch for their citizenship and the
security of their relatives who still live in Myanmar, seeing they left
The 23 year old MAP staff member, who asked not to be
named because she fears for her safety, says “I decided to migrate to
Thailand together with my sister because of these reasons (oppression), as
well as the high cost of living in Myanmar so my parents could not provide
for us properly.”
Regarding their concerns on their insecurity, Orachorn
responded that the Thai government realized that the Yangon regime probably
would not approve the citizenship of most of the Burmese alien migrants and
laborers in the north. Therefore, the government had assigned the National
Security Council to be responsible for these groups of migrants if the
regime does not accept them when the MoU is applied. However, she could not
point out just how the Council would do this.
A 25-year-old Lisu woman, Armeema, is a typical Burmese
migrant. She arrived in the kingdom six years ago and lives in the Kon Nguen
Song slums with her husband and two children. Abject poverty led her and her
husband to Thailand after they heard from other illegal migrant workers
about how easy it was to earn a living here.
“If we were still living in Myanmar, we would not be
able to raise our two children because it is very difficult to earn a living
there,” Armeema says. However, on 140 baht a day, they are just making
ends meet. Most of the Thai landowners renting out to Burmese migrants like
Armeema however, ignore their financial plight.
The media itself does little to present the real picture,
other than pictures of alien laborers being captured by police, but rarely
does the media explain the motives, background and wretched existence of the
Burmese who have fled to Thailand.
Even though the Thai government is starting to address the controversial
subject, the population needs to change its attitude, as global citizens
have a duty to do, to reduce the suffering of these outcasts.