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Thailand prepares to return migrants

THAI officials say they will begin preparations to deport hundreds of thousands of migrants, including thousands of Cambodians who have failed to register to renew their work permits.

Tuesday was the deadline for Thailand’s roughly 1.3 million registered migrants to initiate participation in a process of nationality verification, wherein they were to submit documents to their home governments in order to secure new work permits in Thailand. Bangkok has said that workers who miss the deadline will be deported in the weeks to come, though officials in Thailand gave little indication of when that process might begin.

Thailand’s ministry of labour is “assessing the verification process, collecting the numbers of how many people have finally submitted their applications,” said Thai Ministry of foreign affairs deputy spokesman Thani Thongphakdi. “Once they get a clearer picture of the numbers ... they will make an assessment and make a recommendation.”

Speaking in the Thai-language Matichon newspaper, Supat Guukhun, deputy director general of the employment department at the Thai ministry of labour, said 707,246 migrant workers had begun the process of nationality verification by the deadline, according to an unofficial translation of the article provided by the Migrant Justice Programme (MJP) of the Human Rights and Development Foundation.

A total of 650,746 registered workers missed the deadline, Supat reportedly said, and therefore “coordination ... with the Immigration Department shall be undertaken in order to send a list of these persons’ names to the immigration authorities to arrest, detain and deport” workers who do not intend to register.

Supat did not give a timetable for this action, however, and Karun Kitpun, head of the national verification division of Thailand’s ministry of labour, said Tuesday that Bangkok was still deciding how to proceed.

“The government will decide later how to enforce the rule of law on these people,” he told the Wall Street Journal.

In addition to the 650,746 registered workers who missed the deadline, Thailand’s thousands of undocumented workers will likely also face deportation if apprehended by Thai authorities, said MJP Director Andy Hall. While exact figures are unavailable, Hall estimated that perhaps 1 million such workers are currently in Thailand.

Thailand has drawn criticism from the UN and other organisations who say awareness of the nationality-verification process among workers is limited, and that with brokers’ fees costing in some cases as much as two to three times a worker’s monthly salary, it is too expensive for many.

Workers from Myanmar make up roughly 80 percent of migrants in Thailand, and concern has focused especially on the fact that they may face persecution for political or ethnic reasons by Myanmar authorities if forced to return home. Workers from Laos and Cambodia also constitute significant percentages of the migrant population in Thailand, however, and they too face the prospect of mass deportations.

Thani said the initiative aimed to regulate the flow of migrant workers and give them access to government services available to Thai citizens.
“I think everybody agrees that there is a need to regulate migrant workers to make it an orderly process, and to make sure that workers benefit from social services,” he said.

With so many workers having failed to register for the process on time, however, Hall said Thailand needed to rethink its policy.

“The government has been very clear that there will be no extension of the deadline and they won’t reopen the process,” Hall said. “Given that they’ve refused to extend the deadline, I think we can say that the process has been a failure.”

A total of 124,902 Cambodians were registered to work in Thailand as of February, according to Thailand’s ministry of labour, and Hall said that perhaps more than 200,000 Cambodian migrants are in Thailand, including illegal workers.

Ministry of Foreign Affairs spokesman Koy Kuong said Wednesday that although the Cambodian government had dispatched a delegation to Thailand to assist Cambodian workers in the nationality-verification process, he was unsure of how many workers had registered on time. Officials at Cambodia’s Ministry of Labour declined to comment.

Dy Phan, director of the Cambodian-Thai border communication office, said Wednesday that the number of Cambodians crossing back into the Kingdom from Thailand via the Poipet border crossing remained steady in the aftermath of the deadline.

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