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Traffickers Exploiting Myanmar Job Seekers by Quadrupling Fees to Sneak into Thailand

Three dozen illegal Myanmar migrants were caught in two vans driven by Thais in Rattaphum District of Songkhla Province on Thursday. The migrants were destined for jobs in Malaysia. (Photo: Assawin Pakkawan)
Three dozen illegal Myanmar migrants were caught in two vans driven by Thais in Rattaphum District of Songkhla Province on Thursday. The migrants were destined for jobs in Malaysia. (Photo: Assawin Pakkawan)

Preying on desperate migrants and asylum seekers from Myanmar, human traffickers are charging exorbitant fees for help to get into Thailand illegally, officials say.

A group of 36 job seekers from Myanmar who were arrested this week in Songkhla Province for illegal entry told officials that they had each been required to pay 80,000 baht to brokers who had promised them jobs.

The standard rate previously had been between 20,000 and 40,000 baht, according to various testimonies by detained migrants over the past months, but many brokers now insist on much higher fees because of an ongoing crackdown by Thai authorities on people entering the country illegally.

The migrants detained in Songkhla told police they had entered Thailand at a natural border crossing and were on their way to Malaysia where they hoped jobs were waiting for them.

They had each already paid 20,000 baht in advance to people smugglers and were to pay another 60,000 baht on arrival at their destination.

Hundreds, and possibly thousands, of migrants sneak into Thailand illegally, or try to do so, each week so as to find work and escape economic privation and political repression in Myanmar, where a military regime has instituted a reign of terror since it seized power in a coup in February last year.

Most migrants and asylum seekers can ill afford to pay steep brokerage and other fees and many of them sell all their possessions in Myanmar to try their luck in Thailand.

Many others end up in forms of indentured servitude whereby they work for little or no pay in grueling conditions for months in order to pay back their debts owed to people smugglers and job brokers.

Numerous migrant workers from Myanmar toil away in inhumane conditions in Thailand, providing the majority of the workforce in labor-intensive sectors such as fishing, food processing and manufacturing, rights advocates say.

In recent months Thai authorities have stepped up their campaign of seeking to arrest migrants and refugees fleeing from Myanmar, citing a need to protect the borders from illegal entrants.

In response to what they say are heavy-handed government policies, rights advocates have repeatedly called on the government to stop prosecuting legitimate asylum seekers and people desperate for a chance to make a living.

“Thailand still views refugees primarily through a national security lens, but the only real threat to regional peace and security is the Myanmar junta,” said Amy Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, which advocates for the rights of migrants and refugees from Myanmar.

“If Thailand wants to protect its own security, it should protect the people of Myanmar and work with the international community to deprive the junta of its weapons and financial resources.”

This storyw first appeared in UCA News, a Bangkok Herald partner.