Thousands of Burmese migrants in Mahachai, near Bangkok, came to hear pro-democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi speak on Wednesday morning during her first trip abroad for 24 years.
Workers sporting garlands of flowers and Burmese flags welcomed the Nobel Laureate by chanting “Long Live Amay [Mother] Suu!” She told the baying crowd that she would do what she could to enhance the rights of Burmese migrants upon her return to Burma after she witnessed their situation in Thailand.
Many of those present had taken the day off work to see their idol and held signs saying, “We want to go home.”
“Don’t feel down or weak,” said Suu Kyi from the fourth floor balcony of a workers’ community center. “History is always changing. Today I will make you one promise—I will try my best for you. Even though I am in Thailand I feel here that I am in Burma!”
“I came here first because I want to see the condition of my children,” she said, adding that people must understand about their responsibilities if they wanted their rights. “The people have to respect the country where they live and be united with each other.”
The 66-year-old first met workers at the crowded Tala Kun prawn market at 9 am, and then went to the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF) office for face-to-face conversations with around 30 migrants regarding worker salaries and rights.
“I found some people were crying as they are so happy to hear her speaking. For me, I am very happy to see her because I have only seen her on TV in the past,” Nai Aung Maing, an ethnic Mon who is a senior member of the Raks Thai Foundation rights group based in Mahachai, told The Irrawaddy.
“It is important to do your job well when you work in another country, to be skillful and polite while you are here,” said Suu Kyi. “I will do what I can for the rights of workers in Burma. Our country has had political change and the value of workers will get better. We never forget the migrants living abroad.”
Mahachai, a town in Samut Sakhon Province around 20 miles southwest of Bangkok, has the largest population of Burmese migrants in Thailand, most of whom toil in the fishing industry.
Thailand hosts around 2.5 million impoverished Burmese who have fled their homes to work low-skilled jobs as domestic servants or manual labor industries such as garment factories.
Suu Kyi has not left Burma for the past 24 years due to fears that the Burmese military regime would not let her return. But she now feels safe traveling abroad after a program of political reform was instigated after President Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government took office in 2010 and she was issued with a passport.
Hundreds of Burmese greeted Suu Kyi upon her arrival at Bangkok Airport on Tuesday evening. She was elected as a Member of Parliament in the April 1 by-elections during which her National League for Democracy Party won 43 seats.
Suu Kyi will return to Bangkok later on Wednesday to join the opening of the World Economic Forum and also plans to visit Mae La refugee camp at the Thai-Burmese border on Saturday.