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Open Letter of Concern for the Safety and Security Of Migrant Workers in Thailand

Follow-up Correspondence to Letter of January 18, 2010


To: The Honorable Prime Minister Mr. Abhisit Vejjajiva

We, the undersigned, are deeply concerned for the safety of over two million migrants from Burma, Cambodia and Laos working in Thailand who may face deportation after February 28, 2010. Over 80 percent of these migrants originate from Burma and face ethnic and political conflict as well as continuing economic deterioration in their homeland, which is controlled by a military government.

Most migrants from Thailand's neighbouring countries entered Thailand without documentation, but are permitted to work temporarily pending deportation by the Royal Thai Government. This temporary permission has been extended on a year to year basis in recognition that migrants fill important gaps in the labour force and strengthen the Thai economy.

On January 19, 2010, the Thai Cabinet issued a resolution linking extension of migrant work permits to nationality verification (NV). For over 1.3 million migrants who received permits during 2009 and are willing to submit biographical information to their home governments prior to February 28, 2010, they will receive permission to remain and work in Thailand until February 28, 2012 so NV can be completed. However, migrants who do not enter NV and all undocumented migrants (estimated to be around 1 million persons) shall be deported after February 28, 2010.

We appreciate the importance the Thai government attaches to enacting workable migration policies and we support exploration of ideas such as NV for formalising irregular migration flows between countries. But we also believe migration policies must be carefully planned to ensure protection of migrants' human rights. For this reason, we are deeply concerned that the Cabinet's January 19, 2010 resolution responds neither realistically nor appropriately to the situation of migrants in Thailand.

Accordingly, we request your urgent consideration of the following recommendations:

NV Deadlines, Processes and Deportations

  • The Thai government should extend the February 28, 2010 deadline for migrants to enter NV and immediately cease threats of mass deportation

Threatening migrants to comply with this imminent deadline or face deportation disregards the challenging situation faced by migrants from Burma. If mass deportation is carried out it will serve only to harm businesses reliant on migrant labour. This deadline neither persuades nor assists migrants or employers to enter NV, nor does it allow sufficient time for awareness raising on NV and its benefits. We have received reports that migrants are confused by and afraid of this deadline, so some are filling in false information on NV forms to ensure they may remain in Thailand, thereby compromising the future success of the process. Other migrants are preparing to go into the underground economy to avoid NV.

  • The Thai government should regulate services by brokers assisting migrants and employers with NV

The failure to regulate NV brokers has allowed unscrupulous agents to exploit migrants by charging excessive costs for processing NV applications. Fees charged by these brokers should be capped at significantly lower levels than currently charged, and the Thai government should compel agencies processing NV applications to register with the Department of Employment. The Thai government should set up mechanisms to receive complaints from migrants in cases of exploitation. Migrants and employers should be able to safely and effectively navigate NV themselves or choose services from an open field of brokers with competitive rates.  

  • The Thai government should continue to negotiate with Burmese authorities to conduct NV in Thailand

NV should be conducted in Thailand to simplify and speed up the process, as well as to remove unnecessary expenses, increase safety of migrants and encourage other migrants to enter the process.

  • Ministry of Labour (MoL) should work with migrant support organisations to conduct awareness raising on NV

Raising awareness of migrants and employers on NV and its benefits is urgently needed in all ethnic languages and in Thai. To facilitate this communication with migrants in a format that is easy for them to understand, the Thai government should seek assistance from experienced migrant support organisations working closely with migrant communities who can provide effective supplemental channels of communication to migrants.

  • The Thai government should start interactive discussion to find permanent solutions for migrants who cannot enter into or complete NV

The Thai government should urgently start inclusive discussions with all stakeholders on the real possibility that there may be significant numbers of migrants who are either unwilling or unable to complete NV. The Thai government should listen to the needs of all these individuals concerned and reach out to migrant support organisations for advice and assistance. The Thai government's international humanitarian obligations to those facing extreme situations of political and ethnic conflict should remain a paramount consideration.

Migrant Registration

  • The Thai government should re-open migrant registration to allow all migrants to enter NV

At least one million migrants are currently excluded from NV because they are unregistered workers or children/dependents of registered migrants. The Thai government should consider urgently opening up a new migrant registration round to provide these migrants with the right to register and enter the NV process, thereby allowing all migrants in Thailand the opportunity to apply for NV.   

Forced Labour

  • Migrants who receive permission to work in Thailand should be able to freely change employers to prevent exploitation and forced labour

The Cabinet's latest resolution restricts rights of migrants to change employers beyond limited situations including gross exploitation and violence. Some employers will use this policy to impose sub-standard working and living conditions upon migrants, and such practices could result in conditions equivalent to forced labour. Restricting migrants' right to work freely chosen constitutes a violation of the Thai government's international human and labor rights obligations.

We believe respect for the fundamental rights of migrant workers must be central to the management of migration in Thailand. Migration policies should also take into careful consideration the real economic situation and continuing need for migrant labor. We hope that the Thai government will provide a speedy and amenable response to the above recommendations, given the urgency of this issue and the impending February 28, 2010 deadline.

Yours respectfully,

Mr. Sawit Keawan, General Secretary, The State Enterprise Workers Relations Confederation

Ms. Wiliawan Saetia, President, The Thai Labor Solidarity Committee

Mr. Adisorn Kedmongkol, Representative, Migrant Working Group

Mr. Bundit Panwiset, General Secretary, Action Network for Migrants


  • Chairperson, Alien Workers Management Committee
  • Secretary, National Security Council
  • Chairperson, National Human Rights Commission
  • Minister of Labour
  • Minister of Interior
  • Minister of Foreign Affairs
  • Minister of Industry
  • Minister of Defence
  • Commander of the Office of Immigration
  • Chairperson, Senate Sub-Committee on Labour and Social Welfare
  • Chairperson, House of Representatives Sub-Committee on Labour
  • Chairperson, National Economic and Social Advisory Committee

Signatory Support

Human Rights and Development Foundation, Thailand (HRDF)

Human Rights Watch, New York

IUF - International Union of Food, Agriculture, Hotel, Restaurant, Catering, Tobacco and Allied Workers' Associations

ICEM - International Federation of Chemical, Energy, Mine and General Workers' Unions

BWI - Building and Wood Workers International

UNI Global Union

IMF - International Metalworkers Federation

American Center for International Labor Solidarity (SC)

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

Asia Monitoring Resource Centre (AMRC)

Migrant Forum in Asia

General Federation of Nepalese Trade Unions (GEFONT)

Association of Indonesia Trade Unions (ASPEK Indonesia)

U.S. Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI), Thailand

National Coalition Government of the Union of Burma (NCGUB)

Burma Lawyers Council

Altsean Burma

Thai Action Committee for Democracy in Burma (TACDB)

Mekong Ecumenical Partnership Program

Christian Conference of Asia

Greater Manchester Hazards Centre

Thai Regional Alliance in Hong Kong

Thai Allied Committee for Desegregated Burma (TACDB Foundation)

Suara Rakyat Malaysia (SUARAM)

Labour Rights Promotion Network (LPN)

MAP Foundation

Singapore Working Group on ASEAN (SWGA)

Think Centre, Singapore

Thai Labour Campaign (TLC)

Pa-Oh Foundation

Worker Hub For Change (WH4C) 

Network of Action for Migrants in Malaysia ( NAMM)

Thai Free Burma

Burmese Rohingya Association in Thailand (BRAT)

Campaign Committee for Human Rights (CCHR)

Peace for Burma

Center for Migrant Advocacy Philippines

Peoples' Vilalce Committee on Human Rights

Filipino Women's Council, Italy

Transient Workers Count Too, Singapore

Women Workers Unity Group

Women Network for Advancement and Peace

Friends of Women Foundation

Rangsit and Area Labour Union Group

Nadi Ghati Morcha, India

The National Human Rights Society, Malaysia (HAKAM)

Nepal Women's Association

Raks Thai Foundation

Comitato Antirazzista Durban Italia (CADI)

Ovibashi Karmi Unnayan Program (OKUP), Bangladesh

South Asian Network for Refugees, IDPs & Migrants (SANRIM), Sri Lanka

International Institute for Human Rights, Environment and Development (INHURED International), Nepal

Human Right, Community Right and Environment for Sustainable Development Protection Centre (HCESD)

Cambodian Human Rights and Development Association (ADHOC)

Textile, Garment and Leather Workers' Federation, Thailand

Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN), Thailand

Thai-Myanmar Foundation

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