Friday, January 23, 2009

Migrant Crackdown Won’t Solve Problem: Rights Groups

The Irrawaddy News

The Thai government’s vow to crackdown on illegal migrants will not solve the country’s migrant problems, say human rights groups.

Jackie Pollock, a founding member of the Chiang Mai-based Migrant Assistance Program (MAP), said, “A crackdown is not a good solution. It’s just making migrants’ lives more risky. The best solution is to offer new registration and let them come out and stay legally.”

Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said on Thursday the government would crackdown on illegal migrants, while commenting on allegations that the Thai navy has mistreated Rohingya boat people by forcing them back out to sea.

“We have to solve the illegal immigrant problem otherwise it will affect our security, economy and the opportunities of Thai laborers,” he said. “We will push them out of the country.”

Adisorn Kerdmongkol, a team organizer with the Migrant Working Group (MWG) based in Bangkok, said, “The root cause of the problem for illegal Burmese migrants is the political crisis in Burma. They have no food there so they have to come to Thailand.

The Thai government should offer legal status to solve the long-term problem. They should not only focus on a security crack down in the country."

Estimates say there are about 4 million Burmese migrants living and working in Thailand. About 500,000 are legally registered with the Thai Ministry of Labor.

The Thai government earlier this month announced it would not offer illegal Burmese migrants a chance to register for legal status this year. Several hundred illegal migrants were arrested in Bangkok in recent weeks.

Recently, the Thai government has expressed concerns about more and more Rohingya illegal migrants arriving by boat in southern Thailand.

The English-language newspaper, Bangkok Post, reported on Friday that the government is considering whether to set up a coastguard center with a mission to block the influx of illegal immigrants trying to enter the country by boat.

Prime Minister Abhisit instructed the National Security Council (NSC) to study the idea. The center would work with in cooperation with other agencies, including the navy and Marine Police Division.

In the meantime, officials said they are waiting to deport 4,880 Rohingya for illegally entering Thailand. Security officials were ordered to boost efforts to track down human traffickers helping illegal migrants.

The Thai navy has been accused of misconduct against the Rohingya, including torture. The navy denied the charge, saying the illegal migrants were given food and water before being turned back to sea.

Human rights groups, including International Refugees and Human Rights Watch, claim the Rohingya boat people were forced back out to sea with little food and water. The groups said as many as 300 Rohingya are missing.

On Tuesday, the UNHCR asked the Thai government to grant access to the boat people rounded up in the recent incidents for interviews. The agency said it believes 126 Rohingya are in the custody of Thai authorities, following the detentions and allegations.

Meanwhile, Indonesia detained 193 Rohingya illegal migrants from Bangladesh and Burma who were in boats drifting off Indonesia’s Aceh Province on January 7.

Indonesia Foreign Minister Hassan Wirajuda told the reporters in Jakarta: “Indonesia is working with their countries of origin and the International Organization for Migration to properly repatriate the migrants.”

“Based on interviews they are economic migrants,” he said. “They are not political asylum seekers.”

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