With industrial development poised to take off in Myanmar, Nay Pyi Taw's mission now is to ensure their overseas migrant workers receive standard rights protection and can still send money home.
Myint Thein: Happy with cooperation
The annual remittance of more than US$3.6 billion (106 billion baht) from Myanmar migrant workers has helped the country's growing economy, Myanmar Deputy Labour Minister Myint Thein said.
In his first press briefing with Bangkok-based media, Myint Thein gave a positive but realistic view on the situation of Myanmar workers in Thailand.
"Certainly, there are lots of problems as there are some two million people working here. For documented workers, it's easier for us to raise their problems with the Thai side but for undocumented workers it's still difficult," he said.
Myint Thein said access to information about the workers' situation has become much better in recent years thanks not only to cooperation from the Thai side but assistance from non-government organisations.
"There has been some improvement. Before I could only talk about Mahachai cases [a suburb with a large fishing industry where Myanmar migrant workers are concentrated]. Now we get more information on problems elsewhere such as in Songkhla and Kanchanaburi."
Before the briefing, Myint Thein had met the Thai deputy labour minister, vice minister for foreign affairs and head of the Immigration Bureau to clear the last hurdle for five new nationality verification and passport-visa offices to begin operations.
The first Thaksin administration initiated the nationality verification process with Myanmar in 2004. A year later Myanmar gradually sent officials to work with Thai officials at Kawthaung, Tachilek and Myawaddy, opposite the Thai border provinces of Ranong, Chiang Rai and Tak.
From 2005 to 2009, about 750,000 passports were issued to Myanmar workers, Myint Thein said.
The same number of migrant workers are also waiting to complete nationality verification. There remains another batch of 500,000 undocumented workers who have yet to be included in the process, the Myanmar official said.
Resolving problems faced by the migrant workers including abuse and fraud was a cumbersome and difficult process, he conceded.
Realising the situation's gravity, the Myanmar government set up a committee co-chaired by the labour and border affairs ministers to tackle both internal and overseas migration issues last year.
After Prime Minister Yingluck Shinawatra's visit to Myanmar in October, President Thein Sein agreed to send more officials to work inside Thailand to facilitate migrant management, he said.
The Thai bureaucracy, however, delayed the February opening of five migrant workers' centres in Bangkok, Samut Prakan, Surat Thani, Samut Sakhon and Chiang Mai.
Myint Thein expressed his hope that Myanmar and Thailand would try to resolve the problem of undocumented workers when officers from the two sides meet in Myanmar next month.
They are scheduled to discuss a request from Myanmar for Thailand to relax its immigration rules so that migrant workers' children could stay with their parents and to consider reducing visa fees from 2,000 to 500 baht.
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- Writer: Achara Ashayagachat