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Thai government policies contradict migrant rights

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A seminar on “Livelihood, Health, Labours of the Displaced: Policies and Practices Discrepancies”, organised by a group of academics and activists in Chiang Mai on 29 March revealed that Thai government policies were not favourable to migrant rights.

Academics and activists have alleged that Thai government policies are not consistent with internationally recognised migrant workers’ rights. This sentiment was revealed at an academic seminar in Chiang Mai, Thailand, entitled “Livelihood, Health, Labours of the Displaced: Policies and Practices Discrepancies”, organised by a group of non-government organisations on 29 March.

The groups included the Regional Center for Social Science and Sustainable Development (RCSD) and the Health and Social Science Graduate Programme, the Faculty of Social Sciences, Chiang Mai University in association with the Center for Ethnic Studies and the Development of Social Research Institute of Chiang Mai University, the Social Research Institute Of Chulalongkorn University, the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, Friends Without Borders and the Peace Way Foundation.

According to Charnwit Trathepkhun, director of the Thai Bureau of Health, three policy areas – law and security, economy, public health and human rights – were criticised for being subject to frequent changes by the Cabinet, resulting in a limited time frame for implementation.

He said other factors like communication problems or fear of Thai officials by the migrants also resulted in the discontinuance and ineffectiveness of the policies in practice. He also noted that migrant health policies could not be discussed separately from economic and security issues.

“In the future, every unit and part has to help each other. We need knowledge management and health-security management to cooperate with migrant labour participation through migrant health volunteers and officers.

“Policy-making must also be implemented at provincial level or specific for each area only, not for all. However, the principles must be the same.”

The event was attended by scholars, NGOs, migrant workers and representatives from ethnic groups. Other events organised were a panel discussion on “The Displaced: Labour, State Law Vs Illness and Rights to Medical Treatment”, a public lecture “Medicine without Frontier: Voices from the Border”, a short film on the lives of Karen refugees and those who live in Thailand, an exhibition about displaced persons, and mini a concert by artists on the album “Without Border”.

Laws limiting freedom of movement

The seminar also heard about the legal situation facing migrants. For example, in Thailand, there were several laws affecting migrants such as the 1927 Immigration Laws (amended in 1979), and related laws like the Civil Registration Law, the Nationality Act, the Decease Control Act, and the Ministry of Labour’s regulations on the issuance of work permits to migrant workers.

Wasan Sathorn, director of the Office of Foreign Workers Administration, said that despite the stricter laws, most people viewed migration as advantageous to both sides: country of origin and destination.

“For instance, 500-600,000 Thais work abroad. They send about 100 million baht back to their country each year. Simultaneously, the country of destination also gains in terms of products and services that their people will not do,” he said.

Meanwhile, the Ministry of Public Health is seeking funds from the National Health Security Office to support and help migrant workers, especially those without work permits and those who have yet to register as workers.

Dr.Suphakij Siriluck, the director of the Bureau of Health Policy and Strategy, said: “These people do not have any rights. We have to accept the truth that government units don’t have accurate statistics, so policy determinations are from assumption and guesswork almost every time.”

Statistics on migrant workers in Thailand:

The estimated number migrant workers in Thailand is at least about 2.5 million. Seventy percent consist of illegal labour, which can be classified into three groups:

1. About 120,000 war refugees dispersed into many refugee camps in Mae Hong Son, Tak, Ratchaburi, and Kanchanaburi. Food and health care are supported by UNSCR. Their movements are limited; they live in crowded camps; are not allowed to work; and are ready to be sent back to their countries after negotiating with their governments or sent to third countries.

2. About 600,000 are minority people. Their situation, policy-wise, is slightly better. On 8 January, the Cabinet appointed the Ministry of Interior and the National Security Council to survey and consider them for personal status, either as Thais, migrant persons or stateless persons. About half of the population is expected to gain Thai nationality. The definition of rights to land, education and health care for each category is expected to be completed in 2009.