By The Sunday Nation
Several tens of thousands of Cambodian and Myanmar migrant workers have left Thailand from various border checkpoints in a bid to obtain proper document in their home towns before re-entering the country for work.
In the Thai province of Sa Kaew, several thousand Cambodians sought to return home to apply for passports so that they could come back to work here legally as required by the new Thai foreign labour law. The stricter law has prompted some employers to stop hiring illegal migrants.
According to the new foreign labour law, employers of illegal migrants could face a hefty fine of Bt400,000-Bt800,000 per migrant worker if found to have violated the law. The government said enforcement of the law will be suspended for a 120-day period, starting June 23, to allow time for all parties concerned to comply with new requirements.
Pol Colonel Benjapol Rodsawad, the Sa Kaew immigration chief, said Cambodian migrant workers voluntarily turned themselves in at the border checkpoint to be handed over to Cambodian authorities. Some Cambodians said their previous employers wanted them to leave due to the hefty penalties under the new law, while many said they wanted to apply for Cambodian passports so that they could return to work here legally.
On June 28-29, immigration authorities also reported that a total of 546 Cambodians were detained for illegal entry into Thailand, including those detained by immigration offices in Saraburi, Ayuthaya, Samut Prakan and Pattani provinces.
Under the new foreign labour law, migrant workers are also subject to heavy penalties, including a fine of Bt2,000-Bt100,000 per person and/or imprisonment of up to five years, if arrested by Thai authorities for working here without proper permits.
Myanmar authorities in Myawaddy province opposite Thailand’s Mae Sot district of Tak province have opened a temporary facility to accommodate more than 10,000 returnees from Thailand at the border crossing.
Returnees are also offered food and shelter as they prepare to travel back to their hometowns. At least, 8,491 Myanmar workers are reported to have left Thailand over the past few days, while Myanmar authorities said they welcome returnees and no legal action would be taken.
Pol Colonel Passakorn Kwanwan, the Mae Sot police chief, said the Thai police would face disciplinary and other actions if they demand bribes from returnees.
However, business operators in Mae Sot have complained of labour shortage resulting from heavy penalties under the new law since about 90 per cent of workers in the area are illegal migrant workers
Chaiwat Withit-thammawong, an adviser of Tak province’s chamber of commerce, said the new law is good for Thailand in the long run in terms of tackling problems resulting from a large number of illegal migrant workers in the country.
The next step is to require employers and migrant workers to register properly but the government has to ensure that the process is fast and convenient while expenses are not high, Chaiwat said.
The fisheries industry also reported a severe shortage of labour due to enforcement of the new law.
Meanwhile, two Myanmar workers were injured when a bus taking them from Mae Sot to Samut Sakhon province veered off the road in Angthong province early Saturday.
The accident happened at 4am on the Bangkok-bound Asia highway in Moo 3, Tambon Lakfah, in the province’s Chaiyo district, said Pol-Lieutenant Chatchai Chaiya of Chaiyo police station.
The bus driver, Pinchai Thongsakul, 47, admitted that he had dozed off, causing the bus to veer off for about 100 metres. A Myanmar man suffered from back pain and a pregnant Myanmar woman suffered from vaginal bleeding. The two were rushed to the Chaiyo district hospital.
Pinchai said he had taken 26 Myanmar men and 22 women by bus from Samut Sakhon to renew their passport across the Mae Sot border and he was returning with them to Samut Sakhon when the accident happened.
Meanwhile in Tak, three police officers were removed from their posts and assigned guard duty at Mae Sot Police Station, after a video clip showed them asking for bribes from Myanmar migrant workers.
Pol-Colonel Passakorn Klanwan, Mae Sot Police superintendent, revealed that the committee to investigate this issue has already been set up and if these three police officers are found guilty, there will be swift punishment according to the law.