Search

 

Cablegate: Curfews, Cell Phone Restrictions Expose Migrant Workers To

VZCZCXRO9545
RR RUEHDT RUEHHM RUEHNH
DE RUEHCHI #0125/01 1921737
ZNR UUUUU ZZH
R 111737Z JUL 07
FM AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI
TO RUEHC/SECSTATE WASHDC 0518
INFO RUCNASE/ASEAN MEMBER COLLECTIVE
RUEHCHI/AMCONSUL CHIANG MAI 0567
RUEAIIA/CIA WASHDC
RUEHGV/USMISSION GENEVA 0023
RHHJJPI/PACOM IDHS HONOLULU HI
RUCNDT/USMISSION USUN NEW YORK NY
RHEHAAA/NSC WASHINGTON DC

UNCLAS SECTION 01 OF 02 CHIANG MAI 000125

SIPDIS

SIPDIS

E.O. 12958: N/A
TAGS: PGOV PHUM ELAB SMIG TH
SUBJECT: CURFEWS, CELL PHONE RESTRICTIONS EXPOSE MIGRANT WORKERS TO
HUMAN RIGHTS ABUSES


CHIANG MAI 00000125 001.2 OF 002


1. SUMMARY. Recent efforts by the Thai government to restrict
cell phone use and movement by migrant workers, particularly in
areas with significant Burmese populations, could exacerbate
abuses and exploitation of vulnerable groups. RTG officials say
the measures are needed to contain illegal immigration and
protect stability in border regions. NGOs point out that even in
areas not officially affected by the Ministry of Interior's
decrees, local officials have enacted similar restrictions that,
like other anti-migrant measures, exploit workers and leave
large communities of Burmese vulnerable to mistreatment by their
employers. End Summary.

2. The Ministry of Interior recently authorized new curfews and
restrictions on cell phone and motorcycle registration for
non-Thais living in some border areas. RTG and NGO contacts
confirm that these restrictions initially applied only to
provinces in southern Thailand, such as Phuket and Ranong,
reflecting RTG fears that non-Thai Muslims might use migrant
work as a cover to join insurgent movements in southern
provinces. MOI officials dispute the severity of the
restrictions, muddling ConGen and NGO requests for clearer
explanations of the policies. NGOs and many local officials
concur that the new orders prevent migrant workers from using
cell phones, registering motorcycles, and gathering in groups of
five or more people outside of their places of employment. Most
areas under the MOI's decrees have also implemented an 8 p.m.
curfew for migrant workers.

Harsh Conditions, But Still Better Than Burma

3. The Ministry of Labor reports that 485,000 Burmese migrant
workers have work permits. However, there may be as many 1.5
million more Burmese in Thailand, including those who live here
illegally or slip over the border for short-term stints,
according to the human rights NGO Migrant Assistance Programme
(MAP). MAP staff say migrant workers face harsh conditions in
the agricultural, service, and manufacturing sectors, often
earning just USD 2-4 per day for shifts that reach 12 hours or
more. According to the International Labor Organization, more
than 60 percent of Thailand's migrant workers are "locked down"
at their places of employment, forbidden by employers from
leaving the premises during all hours of the day.

MOI's Restrictions Expand From the South to Chiang Mai

4. Labor activist Moe Swe, a leader in the Mae Sot-based Yaung
Chi Oo Workers Association said the cell phone and motorcycle
restrictions hit migrant communities particularly hard, as they
eliminate workers' abilities to communicate with and visit
family members. Moreover, Swe and other activists suspect that
employers are manipulating current anti-immigrant sensitivities
within the Thai government to further exploit workers.
Restricting cell phones and public gatherings after 8 p.m.
disrupts workers' ability to organize and protest against unfair
labor conditions. Staff at the International Rescue Committee,
which maintains close contact with migrant and refugee
populations inside Thailand, say the measures have already
created problems in southern provinces, where restrictions on
leaving work compounds has increased the influence of organized
crime and violent gangs, who run black markets and other
operations that are now migrants' only link to the outside
world.

5. In May, the MOI added Chiang Mai province under the new
restrictions, leading ethnic Shan leaders to charge that police
use the measures to harass and extort money from the growing
number of Shan crossing into Thailand from northern Burma.
Activists suspect this is a sign local officials have realized
there is little they can do to stop the flood of migrant labor
pouring across the border, and have instead chosen to profit
from the confusion the new restrictions have created. Shan
journalist Khuensai Jaiyen told PolOff that Shan migrants caught
with improper paperwork are now fined and released within Chiang
Mai province, instead of being deported back to Burma.

Employers and Provincial Officials Follow MOI's Lead

6. Although they haven't received specific orders to do so, law
enforcement officials in provinces not under the restrictions
have implemented similar measures on their own. During a recent
PolOff visit to Tak province - a border region rich with foreign
investment reliant on cheap labor from Burma - local businessmen
said Burmese migrants face harsher restrictions than their Thai
counterparts. One member of the Tak chapter of the Federation of
Thai Industries (FTI) told PolOff that human rights among
migrants should be viewed in relative terms. The conditions in
Thai factories may not be ideal, he said, but Burmese workers

CHIANG MAI 00000125 002.2 OF 002


are much better off than they were in Burma. In a startling
moment of self-congratulation, he said factory owners should be
commended for how much they've surpassed Burma's human rights
record and not criticized for falling short of international
standards.

In Border Towns, a "Second Class" Becomes the Majority

7. Mae Sot's chief district official believes most previous RTG
efforts to decrease illegal immigration have failed. Although he
supports the new restrictions on migrants, he says government
officials need to work on presenting a softer image to local
Burmese, lest Thais face the wrath of a migrant community that
far outnumbers actual citizens in his region. Local police are
aware of the population imbalance as well, and enact a strict
curfew in Mae Sot, where 10 p.m. each night brings a cattle
call-like ringing of bells that sends Burmese running for home.
The heavy police presence quickly turns the normally chaotic and
colorful Mae Sot into a ghost town, leaving only a few sparse
tourists and ex-pats left wondering where all the action went.

8. Thai legal experts sympathetic to migrant workers say their
efforts to reverse the restrictions and promote better
conditions for Burmese working in Thailand have largely been
unsuccessful. One legal expert with the Labor Law Clinic in Mae
Sot blamed Thailand's complex citizenship laws for creating
generations of de facto stateless people inside the country's
borders. Without the protections of Thai citizenship, a "second
class" of residents not subject to the same protections and
rights enjoyed by citizens has emerged, she said. Others blame
the current anti-immigrant mood among post-coup RTG officials
and continued instability in Burma. One long-time NGO activist
noted that human rights concerns have always lost out to
national security under military-run Thai governments.

9. COMMENT: The MOI's new restrictions - and the similar
measures in other provinces they've inspired - will likely lead
to increased exploitation of the large Burmese population living
in Thailand. The prohibition on cell phone use is of particular
concern in light of recent collaborative efforts by the ILO and
MOL to establish telephone hotlines for migrant workers to
report abuses. Such hotlines will be useless for workers without
access to telephones. With much of the RTG focused on internal
security, NGOs have little room to maneuver for expanding rights
to non-Thais, many of whom cross illegally into Thailand or run
afoul of an overly complex and unfair work permit bureaucracy.
Curfews and these other restrictions severely limit the work
NGOs and migrant leaders can do to organize workers, monitor
abuses, and promote more humane working conditions. End Comment.
CAMP

© Scoop Media

 
 
 
World Headlines

 

Swing States: Gordon Campbell On Why The US Needs MMP

After the bizarre events this week in Helsinki, the world will be hoping and praying that the US midterm elections in November can put a restraining brake on the presidency of Donald Trump. This may happen, but there’s a highly undemocratic reason why such hopes may be frustrated. More>>

ALSO:

putin, trump scalpGordon Campbell: On The White House Romance With Russia

Tough on Europe over trade, at the G-7. Tough on Europe over defence, at NATO. And utterly smitten as usual by Vladimir Putin at the Helsinki summit. More>>

ALSO:


Gordon Campbell: On This Week’s NATO Debacle

For someone routinely cast as a clown presiding over an administration in chaos, Donald Trump has been very consistent about his agenda, and remarkably successful in achieving it, in the short term at least. More>>

ALSO:

NZ Law Society: Rule Of Law Threatened In Nauru

“The recently enacted Administration of Justice Act 2018 is another clear sign of the deterioration of civil rights in Nauru,” the Law Society’s Rule of Law Committee convenor Austin Forbes QC says. More>>

ALSO:

'Fixing' Family Separation: Executive Order Imprisons Families Indefinitely

Amnesty: President Trump signed an executive order today mandating for children to stay with their parents in detention while their asylum claims are processed. More>>

ALSO: