Friday, July 31, 2009

Thailand to setup pilot project for refugees

by Usa Pichai

Chiang Mai (Mizzima) – Thailand’s Ministry of Labour has initiated a dialogue with businessmen on a pilot project that envisages Burmese refugees, living in camps along the border, an opportunity to work outside their camps in the day and return by nightfall.

Labour Minister Phaitoon Kaewthong, during a meeting with the United States Committee for Refugees and Immigration (USCRI) on Thursday said the ministry plans to setup a pilot project in Mae Sot, the Thai-Burma border town, to allow refugees in the camps to work on a daily basis.

Weerawit Tienchainan, Director of USCRI, Thailand office, on Thursday urged Phaitoon to review Thailand’s labour policy and to create opportunities for Burmese refugees to work outside the camp.

“Currently, an estimated 40,000 refugees are of workable age but the government prohibits them from seeking jobs outside the camps. We are taking this opportunity to discuss and urge the ministry to consider this proposal,” Weerawit said.

While the minister said that the overall refugee policy depends on the Ministry of Interior, responsible for refugees in Thailand, authorities are toying with the idea of setting up a pilot project in Mae Sot to allow refugees to work in the day and return to their camps by nightfall on a daily basis, Weerawit said.

“We also held discussions with the business sector such as Tak Province Chamber of Commerce and some entrepreneurs. They said they are willing to hire refugees. Besides, the situation in Burma is not conducive for them to return. We should work towards a solution so that they can fend for their families,” Weerawit added.

Currently, an estimated of 140,000 Burmese refugees are living in nine camps along the Thai-Burma border. Some of them have lived in Thailand for more than 30 years.

Phaitoon said that the Ministry of Labour is concerned about the unemployment situation of Thai people and the issue of allowing registration of migrant workers that may lead to the unemployment rate going up.

“However, we will wait for the result of the migrant workers registration. In case, there is labour shortage, we will reconsider this proposal,” the minister was quoted as saying by a local Thai newspaper, Krungthep Turakij.

The Thai government expects that there will be about 1,000,000 migrant workers from neighbouring countries including Burma, who will register with Thai authorities.

Statistics of the Ministry of Labour suggest that the number of migrants registered as workers for the July 1 to 26 period is 848,328.

Registration for sectors other than fisheries will be concluded on July 30. Because the number of workers, who have registered in the fishery sector is not too significant, the Thai cabinet on Tuesday agreed to extend the registration period for migrant workers in fisheries from the end of July to September 30.

Weerawit had said earlier that refugees are at risk and can become victims of human traffickers with some of them persuaded to work illegally in dangerous places, including on fishing boats or forced to work in the sex industry or even as beggars.

“These problems have led the US government to keep a watch over Thailand regarding human trafficking, that may affect international relations in the future,” Weerawit said.

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