Mi­grant rights group claims ex­ploita­tion by Thai visa bro­kers

The Myanmar Times - - News - NYAN LYNN AUNG nyan­lyn­naung@mm­times.com

A MI­GRANT work­ers rights group is lob­by­ing the Myan­mar em­bassy in Thai­land to al­low work­ers to di­rectly ap­ply for their visas. The rights group claims the cur­rent visa sys­tem de­pends on bro­kers who ex­ploit the work­ers.

Ko Aung Aung, a Myan­mar mi­grant worker in Bangkok, said bro­kers open up ap­pli­ca­tion coun­ters in front of the of­fi­cial pass­port coun­ters, re­quir­ing a 300 baht (US$8.45) pay­ment for pro­cess­ing.

“We can­not ap­ply on our own,” he said. “The em­bassy will not ac­cept our ap­pli­ca­tion if we did not go to the bro­ker’s counter first. The bro­ker says the counter is there to help us and to pro­vide ser­vices to make it eas­ier while we ap­ply for the pass­port, but there is no dif­fer­ence in the process. Ei­ther way, we have to wait for a long time to get the pass­port.”

U Sein Htay, chair of the Mi­grant Work­ers Rights Net­work (MWRN), said mi­grant work­ers have be­come vic­tims of bro­kers, con­trac­tors and em­bassy of­fi­cials.

“We want [the work­ers to be able] to ap­ply for pass­ports with­out the help of bro­kers,” he said. “We also want to raise aware­ness about the process and the sit­u­a­tion at the em­bassy. We de­mand that the state coun­sel­lor su­per­vise the con­di­tions at the em­bassy.”

Work­ers are be­ing re­quired to pay more than the of­fi­cially fixed price to ap­ply for visas, according to an MWRN state­ment re­leased last week. The same is true of reap­pli­ca­tions, the state­ment said.

While the fixed price is sup­posed to be 1530 baht, work­ers are be­ing forced to pay bro­kers a 300 baht ap­pli­ca­tion fee and an ad­di­tional 1600 or 1700 baht for the visa it­self, the state­ment claims.

The Myan­mar Times reached out to Myan­mar am­bas­sador to Thai­land, U Win Maung, sev­eral times for com­ment on the MWRN state­ment, but phone calls were not re­turned.

The Min­istry of Labour, Im­mi­gra­tion and Pop­u­la­tion’s Mi­grant Af­fairs Depart­ment di­rec­tor U Thein Win said he was not en­tirely aware of the con­di­tions at the em­bassy in Bangkok. It might be that the am­bas­sador is do­ing what is nec­es­sary in order to al­low the process to work, he said.

“It may be that the process was tak­ing too long and so they looked into the is­sues and de­cided to take ac­tions that might smooth the process out,” he said.

The Labour Min­istry has been planning to is­sue mi­grant work­ers in Thai­land with iden­ti­fi­ca­tion cer­tifi­cates be­fore the end of the month, he said. Suc­cess­ful im­ple­men­ta­tion of that project is key and if car­ried out prop­erly should put an end to ex­ploita­tive bro­kers, he added.

The process has been in the planning and ne­go­ti­a­tion stages for over a year with­out com­ing to fruition, how­ever, forc­ing work­ers to seek al­ter­na­tive ar­range­ment to ob­tain le­gal doc­u­ments.

As many as 3 mil­lion mi­grant work­ers are thought to be liv­ing in Thai­land, many of them il­le­gally.

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