Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to Thailand: What happens next?

 

Thousands of ASSK supporters braved the rain to welcome their leader in Mahachai, June 23, 2016 Photo Credits

Thai officials and migrant workers fired after visit

The Myanmar Times reported that a number of Thai officials and migrant workers were fired after Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit. There was no official reason given but rights groups speculated that the firings were due to questionable arrangements that excluded migrant workers from the event in Mahachai on June 23. Among those fired included the local labour department head, a police officer and the district administrator.

Repatriation of Myanmar nationals

The Thai government is planning to repatriate around 200 Myanmar refugees who have opted to return to their homeland. Governments of both countries have agreed to cooperate in the repatriation process; verifying the citizenship and identification of displaced and undocumented Myanmar citizens. However, the physical process of returning will only begin once the Myanmar government has restored native land and villages to the displaced. According to the UN refugee agency, over 100,000 refugees from Myanmar currently live in Thailand.

Migrant workers on a fishing boat

Migrant workers on a fishing boat

As part of measures against illegal work and human trafficking, 3 centres for migrants are expected to open in Tak (Thai-Myanmar border), Nong Khai (Thai-Laos) and Sak Kaeo (Thai-Cambodia border). The aim will be to help undocumented migrants become legal workers in accordance with Thai labour laws. Myanmar nationals represent the largest community of migrant workers, followed by Cambodia and Laos. The Prayut Chan-o-cha government has toughened up the law on illegal laborers since 2014, in its efforts to curb human trafficking, especially in the fishing industry.

Furthermore, measures have been taken to reinforce the existing laws prohibiting certain occupations and professions for foreign workers, such as labour work, agriculture, bricklaying, carpentry or other construction work, driving motor vehicles, etc. Migrants are required to have a work permit or visa to be able to work in Thailand.

An inspiring leader in the region 

“Mother Suu’s” message to Myanmar migrants also had an unlikely impact on Cambodian migrants in Thailand. They were inspired by Aung San Suu Kyi and her government’s efforts to repatriate Myanmar nationals and fare for their well-being abroad.

“Hundreds of thousands of Cambodians have migrated abroad, and many have faced serious consequences. Some of them, especially in Thailand, are abused or exploited, and that’s why Aung San Suu Ky’is language touched the hearts of Cambodians,” said Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia.

Next stop for Aung San Suu Kyi will be Malaysia in August to discuss bilateral agreements on migrant worker rights. This will be her third trip to this country, but first as the de facto head of the new NLD government. An estimated 500,000 to 700,000 Myanmar migrants work in Malaysia.

Hopes and expectations for the future

Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit has brought hope to all migrant workers in Thailand. They fled conflict, poverty and lack of job opportunities under the military government, but may now envisage a brighter future in the Republic of the Union of Myanmar.

For Aung San Suu Kyi and the Myanmar government there is still much work to do to improve the country’s economic situation and ease tensions between the different ethnic groups in order for migrants to return home. Multiple challenges must be faced in terms of governance, trade and peace-building for it to be considered a democratic and developed country.

The Rohingya plight must be addressed, as religious intolerance has mushroomed across the country in recent years leaving scores of Rohingya dead and forcing tens of thousands to seek refuge in displacement camps. The recent torching and destruction of a mosque in Kachin province in northern Myanmar by an armed mob has raised concerns about an escalation of violence against the Muslim minority. Noble peace prize winner Suu Kyi has further dismayed rights groups by not taking action and by asking the international community to avoid using the term “Rohingya” in her presence. Indeed, the authorities fear fuelling further unrest in a majority Buddhist state.

The question that remains is whether Aung San Suu Kyi will live up to her image of a beacon of hope for her people and the world.

Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to Thailand raises hopes and expectations

 

Supporters welcome Daw Aung San Suu Kyi to Thailand, June 23, 2016 Photo credits

For Myanmar refugees and migrants in Thailand, Daw Aung San Suu Kyi’s three-day official visit in June raised hopes and expectations.

In her official capacity as Myanmar’s foreign minister and state counselor, the Nobel peace laureate flew to Bangkok on Thursday June 23, on her second official trip abroad since the National League for Democracy was sworn in as the new Myanmar government in April 2016.

FED director Htoo Chit and staff met with Aung San Suu Kyi to express the difficulties faced by the Myanmar migrant community in Thailand.

Meeting with migrant workers

Upon her arrival in Bangkok, Aung San Suu Kyi met with Myanmar migrant worker representatives in Mahachai district of central Thailand’s seaport town of Samut Sakhon. Despite the rain, hundreds of migrants had turned up to welcome their de facto national leader. Speaking to a crowd of a few hundred migrant workers, Aung San Suu Kyi pressed for better understanding and mutual respect between people of both countries and encouraged all migrants to abide by the laws and regulations of their host country. She also urged for improved relations with the Thai authorities and the Myanmar embassy.

“Burmese people have to live in Thailand as guests, and as such, the hosts will respect the guests. (…) The Myanmar embassy must help Burmese workers in Thailand.”

ASSK addresses migrants in Samut Sakhon province, June 23, 2016 Photo credits

The meeting was however tainted with reports of limited media access and restricted access to migrant workers. In fact, those who were able to attend the meeting with the Lady of Rangoon were hand-picked by Thai bosses, according to Htoo Chit, director of FED. These workers earn minimum wage and experience decent working conditions.

“We thought one or two representatives from the 13 Thailand-based activist groups for workers that arranged for the migrant labourers to see Aung San Suu Kyi would have a chance to attend the meeting. (…) The workers who are really suffering couldn’t see Aung San Suu Kyi, that’s why a lot of workers are in front of the hall and are showing their dissatisfaction.”

It has been reported that authorities in Thailand prevented labour rights groups from submitting documents to Aung San Suu Kyi about labour rights violations suffered by Myanmar migrant workers. 4 million Myanmar nationals are believed to live and work in Thailand – although the Thai Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare puts the number at more than 1.4 million. They are often victims of human trafficking and slavery in the fishing and sex industry. For the majority, their illegal situation makes them all the more vulnerable.

Bilateral talks and agreements

ASSK signs agreements with PM Prayuth Chan-o-cha                              Photo credits

Friday June 24, Aung San Suu Kyi met with Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-o-cha to discuss a wide range of bilateral issues including the protection of migrant workers, the assistance of displaced persons and the responsibility of both Thai and Myanmar governments.

Labor ministers of both countries signed two agreements and one memorandum of understanding, covering employment, labour cooperation and border crossing.

Leaders of both countries agreed on the importance of increasing the volume of trade between the two countries and playing an active role in bringing about peace, stability and prosperity to the ASEAN community.

Refugee camp visit scrapped

Aung San Suu Kyi’s official visit to the Burmese Tham Hin refugee camp in Ratchaburi province on Saturday June 26, was cancelled by local Thai authorities with no reason given.

Tham Hin is one of 9 camps along the Thai-Myanmar border, home to 6000 refugees having fled war-torn zones in eastern parts of Myanmar. Repatriation issues were indeed on Aung San Suu Kyi’s agenda and were later discussed with Thai authorities.

Rohingya plight silenced

Aung San Suu Kyi’s silence on the violent persecution of Myanmar’s minority Muslim Rohingya has been a disappointment for campaigners. She has publicly expressed her will not to discuss this matter.

The Burmese government has recently suggested the Rohingya be referred to as “Muslim community in Rakhine State” while thousands of Buddhist protesters want them to be called “Bengali” and consider them illegal immigrants from Bangladesh. Over the past few years, the rise in nationalism has increased tensions between the stateless Rohingya and Buddhist extremists. The Rohingya are described by the UN as the world’s most persecuted minority group.

“All our hopes in the leadership of democratic statesmen have faded away”, said Haji Ismail, representative of the Rohingya community in Thailand. “Indeed we did not hope for this sort of harsh and negative political stance and undemocratic rhetoric from our Nobel peace laureate.”

Mayzine Burma Issue – Democratization Movements, Human Rights, and Social Justice in Burma/Myanmar

“Htoo Chit
Executive Director of the Foundation for Education and Development (FED)”

Under the military dictatorship, the people of Burma/Myanmar are not only losing their civil and political rights, they are not able to enjoy their economic, social and cultural rights because the military dictators have purposefully chosen to ignore and deny them their rights. While the military expenditure is more than fifty percent of the national budget, a mere less than five percent are allocated for both health and education. The people of Burma/ Myanmar, therefore, are experiencing human rights violations in all forms.

I am from, mining community in the Kayah (Karenni) state of Burma. I involved the demonstrations for the restoration of a democratic government; known as the “8888” movement, because the general strike was called on 8/08/1988. On 18 September, 1988, Burmese military region took the military coup and general strikes have been crackdown. Human of thousand of students are killed and arrested. As an additional consequence of my involvement, I was under house arrested to six months. Months after I released and I have been forced to transfer to southern parts of Burma, it was very far with my native town. I crossed into Thailand to avoid persecution and to aid in the underground resistance movement. In Thailand, I was soon arrested and imprisoned for several months for illegal entry-an opportunity, which used to learn and become fluent in Thailand.

Although Burma became a party to the UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discriminations against Women and the Convention on the Rights of the Child, it has, in practice, been extremely weak and defective in following and implementing these conventions. A case in point is the forced recruitment of children into the army. Because of rampant forced recruitment of children by the Burmese military, children constitute a big portion of the Burmese army making Burma the country with the largest number of child soldiers in the world according to Human Rights Watch.

Human Rights Situation in Burma in previous regime:

Throughout 2004 the United Nations, particularly the International Labor Organization (ILO), was active in Burma but the SPDC is still using forced labor, especially in rural areas where the Burmese military regime, the State Peace and Development Committee (SPDC), has increased the presence of their forces and built military bases. The SPDC army has confiscated many acres of land in order to grow paddy and vegetables for Army’s rations. In areas under SPDC control, even in places where there is no resistance threat, the local people are regularly summoned to do one or more days of forced labor at military camps and farms. Whenever a new battalion moves into an area, the nearby villages are forced to provide most of the building materials such as wood and bamboo for the camps. At least one person per household is required to perform forced labor building the barracks and bunkers, digging trenches and erecting fences. They also have to work the paddy fields, build and maintain the camp buildings and surrounding fences and do other work for the army. Demands for these kinds of labor, as well as demands for porters and various fees, are often dictated at regular meetings called by the local military units that must be attended by village heads and heads of households.

Porter fees take on two forms. In one, each household in a village is required to pay a certain amount each month in order to compensate the conscripted porters. In the other, villagers are forced to pay a fee so that they are not conscripted as porters. Porter fees are a burden on villagers that should not be underestimated as its affects their livelihood in almost the same way that pottering does. Villagers who cannot afford to take time away from their livelihood to porter also cannot afford to pay money to avoid pottering.

Refugees:

Many thousands of newly arrived refugees are still crossing the Thai/Burma border and seeking safety and jobs in Thailand, because some areas of Burma are still facing the civil war.. Urban residents are also suffering basic human rights abuses; civil and political rights are virtually non-existent and natural disaster. The many kinds of government “tax” are persistent problems for people living in rural and urban areas. These pervasively ominous conditions are the obvious and powerful reasons for fleeing to the border area.

Burmese Migrant Workers’ Situation in Thailand

As previously mentioned, poverty, lack of job opportunities and human rights violations as well as the lure of higher incomes in neighboring countries, have significantly contributed to the migration of millions of people into Thailand. In 2014, the Thai Ministry of Labor registered almost two million Burmese migrants. It is estimated that an additional two to six million Burmese have entered Thailand illegally, and have not registered with the government. This situation has created multiple opportunities for human traffickers to lure their victims into Thailand with lies and false promises of a better life.

In 2014, at least half of the Burmese migrant workers in Thailand were undocumented; while in 2015 two-thirds are undocumented.

Despite the relative economic security of the Thai labor market, Burmese migrants remain in a highly vulnerable position. Approximately, 80 percent of all migrants in Thailand are Burmese/Myanmar and because most of them are un-documented, they live and work in Thailand illegally. Burmese/Myanmar tend to do the “3D Jobs or Dangerous, Dirty (Domestic) and Difficult” jobs that Thai people refuse to do…

Many of these work situations involve severe exploitation (working for extremely poor pay, or working as slaves, with no pay at all), confinement, psychological abuse, and physical and sexual violence.

Many Thais believe that Burmese migrants are highly dangerous, and represent a threat to Thai civil society, a perception that is perpetuated by the Thai media in news coverage and ongoing reminders of tension and conflict in historical Burmese-Thai relations. Thais often believe that Burmese migrants take Thai workers’ jobs, failing to recognize that Burmese migrants most often work in industries and jobs largely rejected by the Thai workforce.

Some migrant workers are still facing human rights violations by Thai officials, the local community and employers. Common human rights violations facing Burmese migrant workers are:

  • Uncompensated overtime
  • Low salary
  • No life insurance or compensation
  • Rape and torture
  • Human Trafficking

The past five years brought changes to Burma that would have been previously un-imaginable. Despite some progress, such as the release of political prisoners, many serious problems remain. The road to reform is lengthy and challenging.

Due to above problem and, in order to solve these problems, I found the non-government organization called FED, (Foundation for Education and Development) in 2000.

Foundation for Education and Development

The Foundation for Education and Development (FED) was the first Burmese-led NGO registered in Thailand. FED has over fifteen years of experience in implementing projects designed to aid the Burmese migrant community’s struggle for recognition of their basic rights in Thailand. As a activist, human rig

FED provided legal aid to Burmese migrant workers who were living in southern Thailand that was affected by the 26 December 2004 Tsunami. At that time, the Thai community and authorities ignored the Burmese migrant workers.

Currently, FED is focused on advocacy for migrant worker rights, capacity building for member organizations and safe migration in the Southeast Asia region. Indentured labor and exploitation, with Burmese almost being forced to work as slaves, especially in fishery industry.

Advocacy is an essential part of the process of finding solutions to migrant issues. One of the most sensitive issues in the region at that movement is that concerning the Rohingya boat people. FED dedicates a lot of time to working with its partners in the region to find solutions to this crisis by raising awareness, providing information, and enabling people to express their concerns while advocating for their rights. It is working together with local and national state and non-state agencies to understand the issues so that solutions can be found.

We are focusing on provinces with high migrant populations, first strengthening their visibility and then providing individuals with social services long denied under current Thai laws. As the first registered foundation in Thailand conceived by Burmese nationals, it has the potential to serve as an umbrella organization to link the work of other non-registered Burmese organization throughout the country.

On 8 November 2015, current Myanmar government lead by H.E president Thein Sein, arranged the successfully general election and well know and democratic icon, Aung San Suu Kyi’s party, the National League for Democracy won the nation-wide. Even though political situation would be changed in Myanmar near future, there has been no speed up significant change for economic as well as jobs opportunity under the new government; the flow of migrant workers into Thailand remains the same as before. At the same time, new government has to find solution of civil war, poor economic, and poverty as well as trust building with Burmese/Myanmar military. Current government reached the national wide cease-fire with (8) ethnic’s arms groups and over ten ethnic groups are still refusing to sing the agreement. Some cease-fire groups are still fighting with central government for many reasons. Whatsoever, we are hoping to positive change in Myanmar, but we have to take time in order to restore human rights and democracy in Burma/Myanmar.

FED Health Team visits Khuraburi

health 4

On July 16, the Health Team travelled to Khuraburi to conduct monthly medical checkups for community members and students at the Burmese Learning Center (or Mulberry Learning Center). Three people in the community had contacted the Health Team to receive medical assistance. The team also visited the community manager, to whom they delivered some medicine.

health 3Afterwards, they drove to the school, which is located a couple kilometres outside of Khuraburi. The team did checkups on grade 1 students, measuring their height and checking their teeth, throat and ears. Older students from grade 4 were also checked and assisted with minor injuries.

Health pics

A talk on diptheria awareness was also planned for the day, but time ran out and the students had to go home for the day. Nonetheless, this was a very successful visit and the team was able to provide some health services to migrants who don’t often have access to medical care.

Children on the Move

This video gives a brief summary of the Burmese families working in Thailand, showing the paradox of extremes between the upper class tourists and the lower class migrants.

It also introduces one of FED’s educational programs, called Children on the Move. This program, implemented at the Unified Learning Center, empowers students to become human rights advocates. This student-training-student program equips Burmese children with the ability to recognize and defend their human rights.

For English subtitles, change the settings on the Youtube video.