Thailand: Migrant Workers Face Killings, Extortion, Labor Rights Abuses

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Thailand: Migrant Workers Face Killings, Extortion, Labor Rights Abuses

February Deadline for Renewal of Work Permits Invites Exploitation

BANGKOK, Thailand - The Thai government should swiftly act to end police abuse and
discriminatory laws and policies against migrant workers and their
families, Human Rights Watch said in a new report released today. The
February deadline for more than a million migrant workers to enter the
"nationality verification" process or face immediate deportation
creates the risk of further abuses and should be postponed until it can
be carried out in a fair manner.

Human Rights Watch's 124-page report, "From the Tiger to the
Crocodile: Abuse of Migrant Workers in Thailand," is based on 82
interviews with migrants from neighboring Burma, Cambodia, and Laos. It
describes the widespread and severe human rights abuses faced by
migrant workers in Thailand, including killings, torture in detention,
extortion, and sexual abuse, and labor rights abuses such as
trafficking, forced labor, and restrictions on organizing.

"Migrant workers make huge contributions to Thailand's economy, but
receive little protection from abuse and exploitation," said Brad
Adams, Asia director at Human Rights Watch. "Those from Burma,
Cambodia, and Laos suffer horribly at the hands of corrupt civil
servants and police, unscrupulous employers, and violent thugs, who all
realize they can abuse migrants with little fear of consequences."

Human Rights Watch said that migrant workers face an imminent threat
from the Thai government's decision that all migrants must enter the
national verification process by February 28, or face arrest and
deportation. Eighty percent of the migrant workers in Thailand are from
Burma. They are particularly at risk, as they face ethnic and political
conflict in their home country. The costs of the nationality
verification process, which can amount to two or three months of
salary, are unacceptably high for these migrant communities.

Human Rights Watch said that unrealistic demands set by the Thai
government, coupled with a complicated and unregulated nationality
verification process, could lead to mass deportations of migrants from
Thailand to Burma and situations that could result in fundamental human
rights and labor rights violations.

Police abuse migrants with impunity. A Burmese migrant told Human
Rights Watch that she witnessed two Thai policemen in Ranong repeatedly
kick a Burmese youth in the chest, killing him, because he did not
reply to their inquiries in Thai.

"Many Burmese were watching and nobody went and helped because all
of the people were afraid of those police, so nobody said anything
about this killing, and nobody informed the police station," said the
witness. "When I saw this [killing], I felt that we Burmese people
always have to be humble and have to be afraid of the Thai police. I
feel that there is no security for our Burmese people [in Thailand] or
for myself."

Local police and officials frequently ignore or fail to effectively
investigate complaints. Provincial decrees and national laws prohibit
migrants from establishing their own organizations to assert their
rights, while restrictions in policy on changing employers, moving
outside designated areas, and convening meetings with more than a
handful of persons leave migrants vulnerable to exploitation and
ill-treatment.

Another migrant worker told Human Rights Watch how two armed men
approached her in the rubber plantation where she worked, shot her
husband dead in front of her, and then both men raped her. Despite a
suspect being named in a police report, the police did not pursue the
case.

"I am Burmese and a migrant worker. That is why the police don't
care about this case," she said. "My husband and I are only migrant
workers and we have no rights here."

Migrants reported constant fear of extortion by the police, who
demand money or valuables from migrants held in police custody in
exchange for their release. It is not uncommon for a migrant to lose
the equivalent of one to several months' pay in one extortion incident.

"Many officials and police treat migrant workers like walking ATMs,"
said Adams. "They are just part of a system that robs and mistreats
migrants wherever they turn."

Human Rights Watch found that in several provinces decrees by
provincial governors have increased migrants' vulnerability by
enforcing prohibitions on use of mobile phones and motorcycles,
imposing harsh restrictions on movement, outlawing migrant gatherings,
and enforcing nighttime curfews. These repressive decrees reflect the
treatment of migrants as a national security problem instead of as part
of a global phenomenon of the movement of people for economic,
environmental, and political reasons.

"If the Abhisit government really is reformist, it should
immediately abolish the provincial decrees that keep migrants
effectively held under lock and key, bound to their job sites, and cut
off from the outside world," said Adams.

Human Rights Watch called on the Thai government to establish an
independent and impartial commission to investigate allegations of
abuse by police and other authorities against migrants. Such a
commission should have the power to subpoena, require presentation of
evidence, and recommend criminal and civil charges against abusers. It
should make public reports on a periodic basis.

"Life is extremely uncertain and unsafe for migrants in Thailand as
they flee one difficult or deadly situation into another," said Adams.
"They are a living example of the Thai proverb which describes how the
vulnerable ‘escape from the tiger, but then meet the crocodile.'"

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Human Rights Watch is one of the world's leading independent organizations dedicated to defending and protecting human rights. By focusing international attention where human rights are violated, we give voice to the oppressed and hold oppressors accountable for their crimes. Our rigorous, objective investigations and strategic, targeted advocacy build intense pressure for action and raise the cost of human rights abuse. For 30 years, Human Rights Watch has worked tenaciously to lay the legal and moral groundwork for deep-rooted change and has fought to bring greater justice and security to people around the world.

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