Thousands of illegal Myanmar migrant workers detained in Thailand since coup

More than 20,000 Myanmar citizens have been detained by Thai authorities for illegally crossing the border into Thailand since last year’s military takeover, according to migrant workers’ rights activists.

Tens of thousands of Myanmar nationals have left Myanmar for Thailand either to find jobs amid a post-coup economic downturn in their home country, or to flee military government persecution. As they illegally crossed the border into Thailand, more than 20,000 Myanmar citizens were reportedly detained between February 2021 and June of this year.

They were either jailed or deported to Myanmar, according to Thai-based organisations advocating for Myanmar migrant workers’ rights.

“Every day, those who illegally cross the border into Thailand are detained by Thai authorities. Many have been jailed or sent back to Myanmar,” said a member of an organisation assisting Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand.

Some arrests have ended up in fatalities as drivers transporting illegal migrants attempted to drive away, and Thai authorities opened fire in pursuit. It is difficult to find out the exact number of casualties in those incidents, said Ko Wai, a volunteer helping Myanmar migrant workers, who added that most of the fatalities occurred in May and June of this year.

“In one of the most recent cases, four women from Kyaikto and Mawlamyine [in Mon State] were hit when police opened fire at the fleeing vehicle on June 11,” he said. “In the second week of May in Mae Sot, a Myanmar woman was killed when police chased after and fired shots at the fleeing vehicle.”

Meanwhile, it is costly to work legally in Thailand under the existing memorandum of understanding between the two governments, say Myanmar migrant workers.

“The costs to apply for a legal work permit have almost doubled to 3 million kyats now. Many can’t afford that amount, and they have no choice but to cross the border illegally,” said a migrant labourer working in Mae Sot.

Most illegal migrants cross into Thailand near the border town of Myawaddy, Kayin State, entering Tak Province either to work in Thailand or proceed to Malaysia. Most of them are from Kayin and Mon states, and Yangon, Ayeyarwady and Bago regions.

According to official figures released by Thai authorities, there are around 1.6 million documented workers in Thailand. But the total number of Myanmar migrant workers when the undocumented are factored in is estimated to be around 4 million, according to Thai-based organisations helping Myanmar migrant workers.

Source: BNI

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