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Migrants seek to return to Thailand after lockdown

Jack Burton

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PHOTO: 77kaoded

With the introduction of Phase 6 of easing Covid-19 lockdown restrictions, businesses have reopened and begun hiring, but migrant workers, who went home and waited for outbreak to end, now find themselves on the outside looking in, unable to reenter the kingdom and get back to work. The prospects for their return don’t look good despite soaring demand to revive the understaffed construction and fishing sectors, mostly jobs that Thais don’t want to do.

Thailand has yet to reopen its borders, and the Immigration Bureau is stepping up efforts to curb illegal crossings to lessen the risk of infections from neighbouring countries. The IB’s commissioner says surveillance is being increased in every border province, especially adjacent to Cambodia, to curb illegal entry of migrant workers.

Many migrant workers left the country when it went into lockdown in March. International labour NGOs estimate that about 50,000 Burmese and 30,000 Cambodian workers returned home. The number of migrant workers in Thailand, with or without work permits, was at 2.7 million before the outbreak. In recent weeks, migrant workers sneaking across the border, many seeking a return to work, have been intercepted by police.

“The Thai-Cambodian border is seeing increased smuggling activities after the construction and fishing industries started recruiting. Police and security forces are paying extra attention to this side of the border.”

Border authorities have arrested hundreds of illegal migrant workers every month since April. The largest number came from Cambodia (400-500), followed by Myanmar (200-300) and Laos (70-80).

The IB is working closely with other government agencies, as it doesn’t have adequate resources to support crackdown operations and border busts. The army, border patrol police, marine police and local officials have all been roped in.

Authorities say migrant workers nabbed recently voluntarily paid people smugglers to help them, and insist that none were victims of human trafficking. The smugglers are usually Thais or foreigners who know the terrain, and migrants are moved to the kingdom’s central provinces for transit before being dropped off at their final destinations.

“Despite the rough terrain, they can come in by foot. So most of them cross the border on foot via natural channels. If they don’t know where to get hired, they hire a driver. It’s like taking a taxi.”

SOURCE: Bangkok Post

 

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Jack Burton is an American writer, broadcaster, linguist and journalist who has lived in Asia since 1987. A native of the state of Georgia, he attended the The University of Georgia's Henry Grady School of Journalism, which hands out journalism's prestigious Peabody Awards. His works have appeared in The China Post, The South China Morning Post, The International Herald Tribune and many magazines throughout Asia and the world. He is fluent in Mandarin and has appeared on television and radio for decades in Taiwan, Mainland China, Hong Kong and Macau.

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