THE Thai government is considering reopening a registration process for migrant labourers that could allow tens of thousands of Cambodian workers currently at risk of deportation to remain in Thailand legally, officials said yesterday.
Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said yesterday that because of the “backlog” of workers who missed the deadline for the registration process, Thailand’s ministry of labour was considering reopening it.
“The ministry is working on that, but the cabinet has not yet received a formal proposal on the issue,” Panitan said.
The Thai government set a February deadline for migrant workers to apply for a process known as “nationality verification” that would allow them to renew their work permits. Though 124,902 legal Cambodian migrant workers were eligible to participate in this registration process, just 81,601 took part, according to figures provided by Bangkok-based rights group the Human Rights and Development Foundation.
As a consequence, 43,301 Cambodian migrants who were legally registered prior to the deadline faced the possibility of deportation, as did the untold thousands of Cambodian workers who entered Thailand illegally.
More than 1,000 Cambodian workers who missed the registration deadline had been arrested and detained by the end of June, after Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva authorised a crackdown in a June 2 directive.
Last week, Thai Minister of Labour Chalermchai Sri-on said the government was preparing to reopen the registration process because of a labour shortage, Thai state media reported.
Othsman Hassan, secretary of state at the Ministry of Labor and Vocational Training, said he had travelled to Thailand earlier this week to confer with Thai labour ministry officials on the process of registering Cambodian workers.
“So far, over 80,000 Cambodian workers have already registered, and we estimate that there are still over 90,000 Cambodian workers who have not yet registered” he said.
Othsman Hassan said Thai officials had requested that the Cambodian government assist in registering more Cambodian workers.
“Due to Thailand’s increasing development, they are open to having more Cambodian workers,” he said.
Critics of Thailand’s registration policy said it was instituted unnecessarily swiftly and left no recourse for migrant workers who had entered the country illegally.
“It is addressing regular migrants and leaves out the irregular migrants, and that is something that represents a threat of massive expulsions, with the obvious consequences of violations of human rights. That’s a great concern to me,” Jorge Bustamente, the UN’s special rapporteur on the human rights of migrants, said in an interview with Radio Australia in February.
As Thai labour officials move forward with their review of migrant policy, they must develop a framework that is “in unison with the genuine situation on the ground”, said Andy Hall, director of the HRDF’s Migrant Justice Programme.
In a statement released yesterday, a group of 13 civil society organisations based in Thailand called for Thai authorities to raise awareness among migrant workers about the registration process and allow children and other dependants of workers to be registered as well.