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Burma's exiled ethnic nationalities seminar held in North America

Last hope for survival: hundreds of migrants waiting to enter Thailand
(Kaowao: May 2, 2006)

Recognized as being one of Southeast Asia’s largest undocumented migration groups from Mon State and southern Burma, hundreds of Mon escaping abject poverty and human rights abuses, are gathering at Zobbu or Thanbyu Zayat city in central Mon State waiting to enter Thailand before the start of the rainy season and the scourge of malaria that comes with it, according to an eyewitness report from the area.

Most are Mon nationals from southern Burma heading to Ranong, southern Thailand on the Andaman Sea where many thousands work for survival wages in the fishing, construction, tourism, and agriculture industries. Others will find work on large rubber plantations in Hadyai, Surat and Phuket Provinces that are seen everywhere in southern Thailand and which represents the largest cash crop in the region.  

A town resident, Nai Ein told a Kaowao reporter that the Burmese local authorities will this time turn a blind eye to the human trafficking law as ordered by the SPDC. “The low wages and sky rocketing prices is driving people out of their villages, especially after the government increased civil servant salaries,” he explained.

Huge crowds gathered on the main streets of the city over the past few days and, are waiting to make their journey, for many it will be the first time crossing the border.   Most are young men and women; some are following their partners who returned home before the Songkran New Year and now heading back to Thailand dreaming of sending money back home. Many are illiterate and have only had 4 years of formal schooling and have little awareness of the dangers they may face or knowledge of HIV and other diseases according to a Mon social worker Nyan Sorn.

The exchange rate at the border towns differs from place to place depending on the flow of migrant workers.  In Ranong, the exchange rate of 37.5-38 Kyats is equal to 1 Baht and in the Three Pagodas Pass the rate is from 39 or 39.5 Kyats to 1 Baht.

Nai Lwin, a resident of the Three Pagodas Pass estimates that about two hundred people pass the border daily.  The migrants have to wait to enter the Kingdom where they will deal with local traffickers who work in cahoots with the Thais. It is at this point where they may encounter dangerous and unscrupulous individuals in which they are unable to protect themselves or get help from the Thai authorities who are themselves corrupt.  Four migrants were shot and killed last week near Sangkhalaburi of Karnchanaburi Province while crossing.

Nai Agga from the Maesot border town reported it is difficult to estimate how many people pass the border in this area, but he figures that migrant workers pay the local traffickers from 7,000 to 15,000 Baht to enter the Kingdom.  Those who pay 15,000 Baht get the better trip in a special bus and those who pay 7,000 Baht are hidden in big trucks, while others slog through the jungles and rivers to avoid police checkpoints. There are no official estimates, but Burmese migrants leaving Burma over the past decade number in the millions, many have chosen to stay in Thailand and neighbouring countries to live a secure life.

“As the rainy season will soon start, many people cross the border before the motor road closes.  Even now, the passengers have to pull the truck on their way to Three Pagoda Pass because of the rain,” said a passenger from Mudon, in Mon state.


 
HUNDREDS WAITING to cross the border 
(Reported by Taramon, Kaowao: May 5, 2005)
 
Sangkhlaburi -- Hundreds of migrants are waiting to enter into Thailand  through a one month rotating system along the Three Pagodas Pass Thai-Burma border.
 
Local sources from the Mon border village reported a quarter of the village households have migrants staying there waiting to make the journey to the kingdom. The villagers, who are basically poor, now make some extra money by offering shelter to the migrants.
 
The migrants are told to stick together and not to travel outside the temporary camp; those found walking about would be fined about 50 Baht. Over 35 migrants are packed into small 4x4 passenger cars to make the rough trip to the border. They pay up to 20,000 or 25,000 Kyats to get to the border from Mon State .
 
“Over the month of waiting and making special arrangements with traffickers, they pay up to 14,000 Baht (355 US ) to snakeheads to get them safely across the border. After crossing the border they may have to pay additional bribes to authorities if arrested,” said Nai Lwin, a Three Pagodas Pass border resident.
 
“There are now about seven hundred migrants temporarily staying around the border area,” he added. “It’s getting busy this time because migrant workers are coming back to Thailand after New Year and about thirty agents are dealing with them.”
 
The amount paid to snakeheads differs from 6,000 to 14,000 Baht depending upon the location.  They pay up to 14,000 Baht to get to Hat Yai, southern Thailand which is far from the border. For those unable to pay, they have to walk up the Bilauktaung mountain range that extends about 400 kms along the southern Isthmus of the Thai Burma border to avoid Thai checkpoints.
 
Most of the migrants are young, but increasingly more older people are risking the journey to find work in Thailand to survive. Some migrants bring along their babies and grandparents to take care of their children when they find job.  
Many contract malaria while making the journey to Thailand because the jungle in this region has a higher than average rainfall which creates swampy conditions for mosquitoes to breed that increases the risk of catching the deadly disease.  According to a Mon social worker, last year about this time, many migrants trying to get into Thailand contracted malaria with some dying without receiving any medical treatment or proper food, others died while attempting to cross rivers without knowing how to swim.

Migrant Watch
 
MON MIGRANTS SHOT AT WHILE CROSSING INTO THAILAND
(Kaowao: April 9, 2005)
 
Sangkhalaburi -- Over 40 Mon migrants were arrested and six were hospitalized after Thai police shot at their truck that was transporting them illegally into Thailand, a source from Thai-Burma border said.
 
“They are from Kaw Bein of Karen State and traffickers from the border went inside Burma to bring them across the border to Thailand,” said a Mon woman from the border to Kaowao under condition of anonymity.
 
Six of the migrants inside the truck were wounded when police shot at it after the driver tried to find an escape route from the main road. They were later treated in the hospital.  She claimed that all the migrants were freed after the traffickers paid bribes to the Thai authorities.
 
“The traffickers paid 40,000 Baht to get them out,” the woman said. The migrants were arrested one week ago but the Bangkok Post news paper on April 8, 2005 reported that they were arrested yesterday and that two members of the people smuggling gang along with 48 Mons from Burma were also arrested.  The woman claimed otherwise saying they were freed about three days ago. Another source from the border also confirms that the migrants were arrested about a week ago not yesterday.
 
Last month four migrants died after a boat in the Sangkhlaburi River sank sneaking to central Thailand. The source from the border said that migrants are very often arrested along the border area when traveling to Kanchanaburi. The traffickers are based in Three Pagodas Pass border area.

 
Two charged with smuggling illegal migrants
 
HUMAN TRAFFICKING / MON PEOPLE FROM BURMA
(Piyarach Chongcharoen, Bangkok Post:  April 8, 2005)
 
Kanchanaburi -- Two members of a people smuggling gang and 48 Mons from Burma were caught in Kanchanaburi province yesterday.
 
Following a tip, police arrested Chumphon Chinthongkham, 48, a native of Ratchaburi's Photharam district, and Tun Yee, 38, a Mon man, in front of Rimkwai resort, tambon Wangdong in Muang Kanchanaburi district, as they were about to collect the men at the meeting point. Two vans were also seized.
 
The migrant workers were charged with illegal entry.
 
Police said the illegal migrants had travelled on foot through jungle from Ban Jong Oua village in Kanchanburi's Sangkhla Buri district. They were told to wait in front of Rimkwai resort for vans arranged by the smugglers, who allegedly collected 12,000 baht from each illegal worker.
 
According to police, Mr Chumphon confessed he was paid 20,000 baht a month by his employer to transport the immigrants, but refused to identify his boss.
 
Police said Mr Chumphon had also been caught and charged on Feb 6 with people smuggling. They said it was likely that influential people were involved since Mr Chumphon had been able to walk free and engage again in such activities.

FORCED LABOUR IN BURMA, CHEAP LABOUR IN MALAYSIA

(By Banya Hongsar)

Penang, September 19, 2003 -- Thousands of teenagers who fled from Burma to Malaysia through Thailand to avoid forced labour and porter-duty are now the victims of cheap labour practices in the host country. These migrant workers who lack formal training and information about employment and the democracy struggle are now leaving Malaysia. The majority could not find jobs and were forced to return Thailand in order to survive.

Over a hundred thousand Burmese nationals are working in Malaysia without work permits or other valid documents. Many of them eat on the ground and sleep in the bushes. They heard about "democracy" at home but know nothing about their rights and employment regulations in Malaysia. Undocumented workers from southern Burma told their stories to Kao Wao. But the question is who will listen to them?

A banner on the back windshield of a taxi proclaims "Malaysia for Peace". But migrant workers who have been mistreated by bosses and contractors have found no 'peace' at all and some have not been paid for up to six months by local employers who claimed that there was no cash flow from the 'Big Boss'. The majority of the migrant workers know nothing about their rights because they could not access to legal assistance when they are abused by employment contractors.

Many young Mon nationals work at construction sites, small factories and fishery businesses on Penang Island. They can see the Penang skyscrapers from their work sites in the distance but they are afraid to visit them on Sundays fearing arrest by the Malaysian police. Many thousands more who cannot find regular jobs have no choice but to return Thailand with heavy debts.

"I thought I could make more money here than at home. I earn 28-35 ringgit (Malay currency) per day;" said Ko Lay, a former trader from Thanphyu Zayat, in Mon State. Many factory workers like Ko Lay work 10-14 hours per day but have no legal document or work -permit. They have had to keep a supply of cash on hand to bribe police or inspectors as a crackdown on illegal migrants is increasingly making its impact felt. Ko Lay who has three children studying in public schools said he had left his trading business at home earlier this year because he was unable to support the children's education.

Most migrant workers are in their 20s and 30s and lack formal education and employment training at home. Kao Wao asked whether they had heard about the 'trade unions' that exist in overseas countries. They all replied "No". At the construction work sites, VCD/DVDs and CDs are available on the black market but most productions are adult sex and karaoke shows. As they cannot leave the worksites, groups of 6-10 workers buy audio and video sets for entertainment. The few family men feel homesick when they are dumped from their jobs. Sadly, they know nothing about the help available from the Federation of Trade Unions of Burma (FTUB) and other human rights groups. A few lucky migrant workers find good bosses or employers who pay them regular wages. Three out of ten workers are able to send money back home via the black market money exchanges operated by border based traders. Some single men enjoy a bit of relief by playing cards, smoking cigars and hanging around in the shopping center in the heart of Penang Island. There are a few Burmese shops at the BM Centre where workers can buy Burmese music and other goods from their home country.

Malaysia, like neighbouring Thailand, benefited from the valuable contribution of cheap Burmese labourers, after Burma sank down to become an under-developed nation in the 1970 and 80s. A normal wage for an illegal migrant worker is less than 40.00 ringgit (US$ 10.50) per day, but they have to spend at least 15.00 ringgit (US$ 4.00) for food and drink for a day.

"I have saved my wages to get about 300.00 ringgit (US$ 79.00) to send home for my wife and children but I will never make it this year" said Ko Way from Mudon who works as head of the group at the construction site. According to Ko Way, they only can work 3-5 days a week but sometimes they only work for three days because there are no goods or materials for the building.

"I really get upset when my wife calls me to send some money home for the children" said Ko Lar, a building painter. His wife and three kids at home depend on him for a living. He asked, "When will we get democracy?'' Most migrant workers look forward to returning homes and living with their families when Burma becomes a democratic country.

Burmese migrant workers lack access to information about Burmese politics. They don't have access to the BBC, VOA and other radio channels in Malaysia and long for news from their home country. They asked that newspapers, magazines and labour related information be sent to them. A few migrant workers use mobile telephones to keep in contact with their homes but they can only speak 'non-political conversation' on the phone line. Unfortunately, they cannot send goods to families and parents at home, due to their illegal status in Malaysia since the Burmese authorities seize all goods and packages shipped to Burma without passport numbers on the address label.

According to an Economic Report for 2003-4 in the New Straits Times, the federal government of Malaysia received 42.7% from income taxes. The report said that the government would begin construction of low and medium-cost houses. It indicated that the construction business would prosper for a few years and that there would be a massive demand for labour for the project. Sadly, most migrant workers do not read daily newspapers in either Malay or English for general information.

The long-serving Malaysian Prime Minister Datuk Seri Dr Mahathir Mohammad said during his remarks on the Supply Bill (2004) in the second week of September, that the National Social Policy had been launched, with the objective of promoting social development based on noble values and self-enrichment to achieve unity and stability.

Burmese migrant workers who left their country not by choice but seeking a chance to feed their families at home have no clue about the Association of Southeast Asia Nations (ASEAN) or about the Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation (APEC).

Democracy in Burma is a hope for all migrant workers both in Thailand and Malaysia. Burma or Malaysia could not bring democracy and national building process where workers have no rights. The current Rangoon regime, the State Peace and Development Council, proudly announced that most young workers left for Malaysia and Singapore in order to generate income for their homes, but the majority of the workers do not have passports and work permits. They cross Thai and Malaysia border with the help of dealers or human traffickers.

Many end up in the circle without jobs, paying bribes to the police and cheated by the employers. "I have lived here over ten years and I haven't been home," said Nai Shwe, a former boatman from Mon State.


WEARING SARONG AN INVITATION TO ROBBERY

(Kao-Wao, Samut Sakhon, February 15, 2002 )

Since February 10, 2002, Thai authorities have commenced their annual campaign of repatriating undocumented (illegal) workers back to neighbouring countries, targeting nine provinces; Tak, Ranong, Phuket, Samut Sakhon, Bangkok, Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Samut Prakan and Sa Kaeo. The workers have been warned to renew their registration cards.  Thailand has requested its neighbors to set up holding centers (camps) for these people who will be preventing from leaving the country again.

In Samut Sakhong, the authorities checked workers’ registration cards, about 30 workers without work permits were arrested during the first phase of the crackdown.  On another front, local policemen continue to extort registered workers as a normal part of their working shift in the fish processing Mon community.

On February 13, 2002 , two police extorted a woman from Pa-An, Karen State, Burma on her way to a nearby grocery store.  The two police on patrol saw Ms. Mi Mae, a registered worker who worked in the seafood-processing factory and asked her if she had registered ID.  She immediately presented the card from her wallet, but after seeing the Thai currency the police officer told Mi Mae she was not allowed to wear the Mon sarong in the street and grabbed the 500 Baht and ran away from the scene.

The sarong is a traditional dress worn by women in Thailand and Burma , although nowadays in Thailand many women have switched to wearing trousers and skirts when shopping.

Meanwhile, a workshop on Cooperation between Thai Government Organizations and NGOs in solving problems after the ‘2001 Registration of Migrant Workers’ was held on February 14-15, 2002 in Chiang Mai, Thailand. NGOs called on the government to allow more civil participation for groups to address the real issues concerning migrant workers concerning national security and access to health services and education.  Many problems, such as extortion were brought up at the work


WAITING MIGRANTS SUFFER FROM MALARIA

(Banyear Toay Taw: June 8, 2004)

Migrant workers who are waiting along the border to enter Thailand are suffering from malaria due to the rainy season and having no mosquito nets to protect them.

"Nearly all of us suffer from malaria," said Ms. Mi Kun Sorn from Kaw Kareik Township , Karen State who came to Thailand with 20 people.

"Some of them were treated at the hospital.  One patient nearly died after the local medic gave him the wrong prescription. Fortunately, he was admitted at the MSF clinic and recovered," said a 30 year old woman, who left her two children at the village with her parents. When asked if they slept with mosquito nets the migrant workers said no.  The makeshifts are built too small and are dark and dirty.

The reasons for the deadly diseases are; migrant workers are placed in strict areas with poor living conditions, and they are not allowed to see outsiders complained a social worker from Thai Burma border.  

Some migrants also bring allow their young babies (3 to 5 years old) and some leave their children with their mothers.  A grandmother in her 50s said she came to Thailand with her family to look after her grandchildren while her daughter works.  The family was infected by malaria during their stay in the jungle for three days before reaching to the border.  The grand mother said they were contacted by human traffickers and taken to the border on debt, as they have no money left.  They struck a deal with the brokers to pay back twice the amount of money after they arrive in Thailand .

 


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