Around one million Burmese migrant workers in Thailand are facing deportation back to Burma unless they complete a procedure to verify their nationality before Dec 14, according to Burmese government and Thai media sources.
Burma has asked for the deadline to be extended but Thailand has so far declined to do so. Labor migration expert Andy Hall told The Irrawaddy that it was unlikely most workers would be able to complete the nationality verification procedure in time.
Burma’s Deputy Minister for Labour, Employment and Social Security Myint Thein met with Thai Labor Ministry’s Employment Department Director-General Prawit Khiangpol in Bangkok on Monday to ask for an extension of the deadline for another six months, but the request was turned down, according to The Bangkok Post.
The Burmese President’s Office released a statement on Nov. 23 that said the two countries should work together to provide Burmese migrant workers with official documentation instead of deporting them.
“If the [documentation] process is halted it will have adverse impact on the interest of both countries and workers’ rights,” the office said. “So, Myanmar will insist on extending the [registration] term.”
The Thai government has already extended the nationality verification deadline several times, most recently pushing it back from June 14 to Dec. 14.
Thailand started the so-called Nationality Verification process in 2009 requiring all migrant workers to verify their nationality with their home country and be issued temporary passports, after which they are granted a two-year Thai work permit.
There are verification centers in Bangkok, Samut Sakorn, Samut Prakan, Surat Thani, Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, Tak and Ranong.
More than two million Burmese are estimated to be working in Thailand, around one million of which remain unregistered, according to the Burmese government.
Andy Hall, a migration expert at Mahidol University in Bangkok, said around 300,000 Burmese registered workers had not yet verified their nationality, while unregistered workers were not eligible for this procedure under Thai law.
Both groups face deportation, he said, unless Burma and Thailand could agree on a new system of migrant worker registration and an extension of the nationality verification deadline—but Thailand has so far stuck to its current plans.
“The approach of the [Burmese] government is commendable, but Thailand has been very unreasonable,” Hall said, adding that large-scale deportation of Burmese workers by Thai authorities is now looming.
“They [Thai officials] said they’re going to ramp up the deportation process next year,” he said. “At least one million are at risk of deportation … it should be an issue of concern to the international community.”
If Thailand does not extend the deadline, Burma has asked that all migrants are sent back through formal channels to prevent exploitation, he added.
Most Burmese migrants are employed as cheap laborers in Thai fisheries, garment factories, the construction industry or work as domestic servants.
Many are forced to pay off Thai police in order to obtain legal documents or remain employed, while illegal, unregistered workers are at risk of exploitation and abuse by employers, according to labor rights advocates.