FORWARDED APPEAL (Thailand): Requesting Urgent Inquiry into Nationality Verification Process for Burmese Migrants 

Dear friends,

The Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC) wishes to forward on an appeal from the State Enterprise Workers Relations Confederation (SERC), the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF) and the Thai Labour Solidarity Committee (TLSC), regarding disturbing developments in the process to verify the nationality of Burmese migrant workers. We join the concern for the safety of Burmese migrant communities in Thailand, now this process has commenced, and are disturbed by what appears to be another wave of exploitation affecting them.

For more information please contact the Human Rights and Development Foundation
111 Suthisarnwinichi Rd., Samsennok, Huaykwang, Bangkok 10320
Tel: (+662) 693 4939, 693 4831 Fax: (+662) 275 3954

Thank You
Urgent Appeals Desk
Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)


A Urgent Appeal from the State Enterprise Workers Relations Confederation (SERC), the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF) and the Thai Labour Solidarity Committee (TLSC) forwarded by the Asian Human Rights Commission (AHRC)

16th September, 2009

Mr. Jorge. Bustamante
Special Rapporteur on the Human Rights of Migrants,
Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights, United Nations,
8-14 Avenue de la Paix,
1211 Geneva 10,

Re: Requesting Urgent Inquiry into Nationality Verification Process for Burmese Migrants in Thailand 

Dear Mr. Jorge Bustamante,

The State Enterprise Workers Relations Confederation (SERC) is a national confederation of 43 state enterprise unions in Thailand representing over 170,000 registered members and affiliated to the International Trade Union Confederation (ITUC). The Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF) is a registered foundation working to strengthen standards on human rights, democracy and peace in Thailand. The Thai Labour Solidarity Committee (TLSC) is a committee consisting of 24 labour federations, unions and NGOs campaigning on labour issues in Thailand.

By means of this joint letter, SERC, HRDF and TLSC wish to bring to your attention disturbing developments in Thailand regarding nationality verification of Burmese migrant workers. As a result of the commencement of this process, we fear for the safety of Burmese migrant communities in Thailand and are disturbed at what appears to be another wave of exploitation affecting them.

There are an estimated three million migrant workers currently in Thailand, the majority from Burma. More Burmese continue to enter illegally every day, leaving economic malaise in their homeland to search for work in a Thai economy heavily reliant on their cheap labour. Burmese migrants’ ‘illegal’ entry into Thailand results from difficulties experienced by the Royal Thai Government (RTG) and the Burmese military junta in agreeing on formal labour movement systems for these much needed workers.

Since the 1990s, the RTG has annually held 30-day registration periods for ‘illegal’ migrants to register and receive an amnesty to work in Thailand ‘legally’ for one year, pending deportation. This process has been costly for migrants, bureaucratic for employers and reliant on exploitative and unregulated brokerage systems. As HRDF, TLSC and Human Rights Watch previously brought to your attention in written submissions in March and June of this year, as well as in a statement issued following your report to the UN Human Rights Council on 2nd June 2009 in Geneva, migrants with ‘legal’ permission to work in Thailand are still, in practice, denied basic rights like work accident compensation and freedom of movement, on the basis of their ‘illegal’ entry.

In 2004, the RTG and the Burmese military junta signed a Memorandum of Understanding providing for nationality verification of ‘illegal’ Burmese migrants already working in Thailand so that they could become ‘legal.’ The process was not implemented as Burma’s junta insisted nationality verification take place in Burma, whilst the RTG insisted it should take place in Thailand. The stalemate continued until late 2008 when the RTG finally agreed to allow nationality verification to take place in the three main Burmese border towns of Kawthaung, Myawaddy and Tachileik.

The RTG announced in late 2008 that no migrants would remain ‘illegally’ in Thailand after 28th February 2010. A final 30-day amnesty for unregistered migrants was allowed in July 2009 during which 1 million migrants registered. RTG then announced all registered Burmese migrants in Thailand must undertake nationality verification by means of a complex 13-stage process involving Thai employment offices, the Burmese Embassy in Thailand, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs in Burma and Thailand, and National Verification and Processing Centres in three border crossings in both Burma and Thailand. According to the RTG, all registered Burmese migrants in Thailand have until Feb 28th 2010 to complete nationality verification or face deportation.

News about commencement of nationality verification has circulated since early 2009, but in the past weeks it has clearly begun. Tour buses carrying migrants to border processing centres are leaving main migrant population centres in Thailand and migrants are then crossing borders to Burma and returning at varying costs with temporary Burmese passports and visas. Information is spreading in migrant communities on these processes but the RTG has not yet conducted public relations campaigns with migrants, NGOs or labour organisations. The only information publically disseminated is from the Burmese government about ‘low cost’ processes on their side of the border. However, private brokers are springing up in Thailand and providing answers and services at unreasonably high costs.

The nationality verification process seems two-track. Migrants can either submit their biographical information to brokers to get nationality verified and obtain a passport within months, or submit this information formally to employment offices and receive a slow response. The formal government costs are low (approx. 600 to 2,100 baht/US$17- 60) but broker fees are unregulated and getting higher (starting costs approx. 7,500 baht/US$200). In Samut Sakorn Province, with the largest Burmese migrant population in Thailand, recently officials announced the use of ‘recommended’ brokers in nationality verification processes was necessary to cope with the large number of migrants involved and to speed things up.

Certain ethnic groups, especially Shan, are increasingly fearful of providing personal information as rumors of negative effects on their families surface once this information reaches the Burmese junta. Rumors are spreading that Burma intends to catch political activists through the process, and Muslims are excluded. Many migrant workers are paying brokers only to report they disappear without providing services.

As stated above, SERC, HRDF and TLSC are increasingly concerned as a result of these developments. We fear for the safety of Burmese migrant communities in Thailand and are disturbed at what appears to be another wave of exploitation affecting them. We are aware that managing migration is a difficult task for any government, and one on which the RTG has tried to succeed. However, for the past decade the RTG’s migrant registration process has been inflexible and costly, failed to meet migrant and employers’ needs, and led to an increase in corruption and exploitative broker services. The implementation of the process has been piecemeal and proceeded with little awareness of migrant communities or the public.

Nationality verification, which we view as a positive yet sensitive issue, is beginning at additional costs to migrants, and just weeks after a previous registration period ended and migrants endured high costs related to this. There has again been little information provided by the RTG on the processes, especially to migrants. Today SERC, HRDF and TLSC therefore call on you, as the UN Special Rapporteur on Human Rights of Migrants, to urgently set up an inquiry into the commencement of this nationality verification process.

We shall also send a request to the RTG to take into account the following recommendations to improve the nationality verification process and reduce potential exploitation of migrants:

1. The RTG should urge the Burmese military junta to set up nationality verification centres in Thailand. This would avoid unnecessarily high costs for the process being borne by migrants, increase their safety, speed up the process and importantly reduce unnecessary use of brokers;

2. The Ministry of Labour (MoL) and related government ministries should urgently start an awareness raising campaign to help Burmese migrants understand nationality verification processes, as well as the benefits which will accrue once the process is complete. Awareness raising should be planned and carried out in liaison with Burmese authorities, in all Burmese ethnic languages for migrants, and in Thai for employers;

3. MoL is aware migrants have just completed 2009-10 registration, often at a cost of 6 – 7,000 baht per person. Work permits issued expire after 8 months on 28th Feb 2010, instead of the usual 12 months. All measures by MoL and employers to reduce financial burdens on migrants during nationality verification, and thereby reduce risks of debt bondage, should be implemented;

4. If brokers are required in the nationality verification process, they should be regulated by the RTG to reduce the high possibility of exploitation of migrants. Otherwise, it is likely some brokers will overcharge, whilst others will be bogus. At worst, migrants using unregulated brokers to head to border centres creates a high risk situation of smuggling or even trafficking in persons, especially for women and children. RTG has international obligations to prevent trafficking in persons by all means possible;

5. The RTG should ease fears amongst migrant communities by organising for NGOs and unions working with migrants to be trained on nationality verification processes and taken to visit nationality verification centres so that they can then disseminate their experiences to migrant communities;

6. The RTG date of 28th February 2010 for completion of nationality verification is unrealistic and deeply troubling for migrant communities, who fear they will deported before they can complete the process. The RTG should ease community angst on this issue and be realistic with its deadlines;

7. Given the time that will be taken to complete nationality verification for the 2 million Burmese migrants currently in Thailand, the RTG should ensure those who have yet to complete the process are entitled equally to all the rights as those who have completed the process.

As UN Special Rapporteur for the Human Rights of Migrants, we also urgently request you to enter into correspondence with the RTG relating to this process of nationality verification for Burmese migrants in Thailand. We hope this through this correspondence the UN and related government agencies, such as the International Labour Organisation and the International Organisation for Migration, as well as Thai trade unions and Thai NGOs and civil society, can be provided the opportunity to support the RTG to ensure nationality verification of Burmese migrant workers in Thailand proceeds at least cost to the migrants themselves, with increased safety, and with careful attention paid to ensuring possibilities of exploitation resulting from the process are quickly detected and neutralized.

Should you require further information, please do not hesitate to contact us.

Yours Respectfully,

Mr. Sawit Keawan
(General Secretary: The State Enterprise Workers Relations Confederation)

Mr. Somchai Homlaor
(Secretary General: The Human Rights and Development Foundation)

Ms. Wiliawan Saetia
(President: The Thai Labour Solidarity Committee)

Mr. Homayoun Alizadeh – Regional Representative, Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (Regional Office South East Asia)

Contact Information:
Human Rights and Development Foundation
111 Suthisarnwinichi Rd., Samsennok, Huaykwang, Bangkok 10320
Tel: (+662) 693 4939, 693 4831 Fax: (+662) 275 3954

To support this case, please click here: SEND APPEAL LETTER


Document Type : Forwarded Urgent Appeal
Document ID : AHRC-FUA-013-2009
Countries : Thailand,
Issues : Arbitrary arrest & detention, Freedom of expression, Judicial system, Rule of law,