Migrants in Thailand Facing Detention and Imminent Deportation

Press release

The International Federation for Human Rights (FIDH) expresses its deep concern regarding recent reports of detention and forced deportation of a large number of migrant workers, especially along the Thai-Burma border.

According to information received, there has been a sudden increase in the arrest, detention and deportation of Burmese migrant workers since March 5 in the Thai-Burma border town of Mae Sot.

In January 2010, the Thai Cabinet adopted a resolution allowing for a 2-year extension of migrant work permits provided migrants participate in the process of Nationality Verification, requiring them to submit biographical information to their home government before February 28 or face deportation. The scheme does not apply to irregular migrants. This resolution affects the safety and livelihood of over 1.3 million migrants who hold work permits and places a million others, who are undocumented, under threat of immediate deportation.

Many registered Burmese migrants are unable or unwilling to submit biographical information to the Burmese authorities because they fear for their own safety and that of their family members in Burma. In addition, the period is too short and the procedures too complex for migrants to comply. Even for those who may wish to avail themselves to this process, the cost of traveling back to Burma may be prohibitive for most migrants who earn meager wages.

FIDH believes that such drastic measures are not conducive to the objective of facilitating opportunities for migrant workers to work legally. FIDH is concerned that on the contrary, such measures risk driving more migrant workers underground, making them even more vulnerable to exploitation by employers. In addition, such deportations may in some cases violate the principle of non-refoulement.

FIDH notes with disappointment that the Thai authorities have not responded to calls of restraint by the United Nations Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants, who expressed his concern that “the scheme is only applicable to regular migrants who submit registration before February 28 and does not include irregular migrants,” and that it “does not offer options for protecting the human rights of migrants who have not or will not avail themselves of this process.”

FIDH calls on the Royal Thai Government to suspend immediately the application of the resolution, to cease all acts or threats of detention and deportation and formulate a rights-based policy to address the on-going plight of undocumented migrant workers in Thailand. FIDH also urges the Thai government to ratify the International Convention on the Protection of the Rights of all Migrant Workers and Members of their Families which provides a framework for developing such policies in ways which ensure respect of human rights.

We urge the government to reform the process with a view to developing a more realistic, reasonable time frame, as well as less burdensome procedures, and to assisting migrants to fully understand, gain confidence, and participate in the process without putting them at risks of human rights violations either in Thailand or in their country of origin,” said Souhayr Belhassen, President of FIDH.

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