15. The Situation of Migrant Workers
15. 1 Background
Throughout 2002 large numbers of people continued to leave Burma to seek work abroad. Approximately ten percent of Burma’s population migrates to other countries, according to a report Migration, Needs, Issues and Responses in the Greater Mekong Subregion 2002, by the Asian Migrant Center. People leave Burma for a number of reasons. Rampant inflation, a deteriorating economy and general lack of employment and educational opportunities are factors that cause many people to emigrate. In addition to these hardships, many people living in rural areas are forced to pay heavy taxes to local officials and the military and to sell a large percentage of their crops to the government at below-market prices. For these reasons, many Burmese view their migration as less of a decision than an economic necessity.
Ethnic minority people living in civil war zones often have no choice about emigrating, as they are forced to flee their homes to avoid brutal campaigns of violence against them by the Burmese Military. Every year thousands of people flee across the border, primarily into Thailand, to escape these human rights violations which include mass forced relocation, arbitrary arrest, torture, rape, and extra-judicial killing. Some of these people are able to seek asylum in refugee camps in Thailand and Bangladesh, however many of those fleeing human rights violations are not recognized as refugees by the Thai and Bangladeshi Governments. These individuals are left with the choice of trying to enter refugee camps illegally or else trying to survive as migrant workers.
Migration from Burma is facilitated by the fact that 7 of Burma’s 14 States and Divisions share borders with neighboring countries. In the west, Burma borders Bangladesh and India, in the north and northeast China, and in the east Laos and Thailand. In a 1999 report by Save the Children UK, Small Dreams Beyond Reach: The Lives of Migrant Children and Youth Along the Borders of China, Myanmar, and Thailand, the authors note that in the past ten years the largest flow of migrants in the Mekong region has been concentrated along the borders of China, Burma and Thailand, with Burmese people making up the largest percentage of the population migrating. The report goes on to note that while China, India, Bangladesh and Thailand have collectively reported hosting over two million Burmese migrants, the actual population of people from Burma living in these countries is likely to be much higher. However it is extremely difficult to obtain accurate estimates as to the number of Burmese working abroad, as many are illegal, and the population as a whole is highly mobile. In addition, some migrant groups are ethnically similar to indigenous populations of neighboring countries, making them difficult to identify as non-natives.
Situation for Women Migrant Workers
Women make up a significant percentage of migrants from Burma. In neighboring countries, most notably Thailand, there is a strong demand for female labor. Women who emigrate are more likely then men to work as undocumented or illegal workers. This is partly due to the fact that many women take jobs that are in the informal sector and not included in government registration. While women are subjected to the same poor conditions and abuses as men who are migrant workers, women also suffer abuses specific to their gender. Of greatest concern is the fact that Burmese women working outside their country are extremely vulnerable to sexual abuse by their employers, human traffickers, local officials, or others. Many women face sexual harassment and/or sexual assault in the workplace, while they are in government detention centers, and/or in their homes and communities. Women migrant workers who are undocumented have little recourse when they are abused, as their abusers often threaten them with arrest and deportation if they complain to the authorities or try to escape their situation. As a result of this situation, a number of young migrant women report feeling pressure to get married in order to have some protection against unwanted sexual advances from others.
As in Burma, most migrant women also suffer from a lack of access to reproductive health care, and information on STDs and contraceptives. In Gathering Strength, a report by Images Asia, the authors note that in Mae Sot, a town on the Thai/Burma border, some health workers have reported that it is more difficult to negotiate with factory managers than brothel owners about provision of reproductive health information to employees. One health worker reports the following situation in Mae Sot:
"Our patients come from the Mae Sot area, factories, refugee camps, some from inside Burma, and some from the border....We see pregnant women who don’t want their babies, and they induce abortions. When they arrive here they already have infections. Especially in the factories in Mae Sot, there are many women who get pregnant but don’t want to have babies. Some induce abortions themselves, some get TBAs [Traditional Birth Assistants] to do it. After an induced abortion, there is increased chance of an ectopic [tubal] pregnancy, which is very dangerous and can be fatal for the woman.
In Burma, women are very shy, and no one gets any sex education. But here, in the factories, men and women are together. Maybe they will sleep together, and afterwards, the woman is pregnant and she may not even know why. Families never talk about sex. In our culture, it is very secret. Mothers will not tell their daughters anything about sex. This year, there are more young women. Some have even graduated from university, but they all must come to work in Thailand. We have seen two rape cases this year, and many cases of STD’s, including HIV/ AIDS. Now we see more patients who already have AIDS; they die after only one or two months. Last year, two or three people died in our clinic of AIDS. This year, we have seen more than 10 people die of AIDS, including a pregnant woman. In the past one to two years, we have seen many STD’s in women….
A woman came in who had an incomplete abortion. I explained that she needed to stay in the clinic, because the tissue hadn’t come out yet. If we treated her for two or three days and she did not get better, we could send her to Mae Sot Hospital. She said, "No, I cannot take a holiday. My manager will not agree. Just give me medicine because I must continue with my job." I explained to her that we could take care of her here and it would not cost any money, but she could not afford to stop working. So finally, I gave her medicine and told her to come back immediately if she had any problems…I sometimes feel very sad about our people. Now with the arrests [of illegal migrants], people have even more problems. The army is shooting at them in Burma, and they cannot stay here safely. I don’t know what the situation will bring. In the [refugee] camps, we can see the same people repeatedly, and problems are dependent on the season. But here [working with migrant workers], it is different. We often see people only once, and we urge them to come back. But they have problems with transport and arrests by police. We cannot always help like this, you see. Ultimately, change will depend on political changes, not on the clinic or our staff. Political changes must happen step by step. Changes must happen inside Burma, on the borderline, and in Thailand. We can do so many things, but it depends on the situation." (Belak, Brenda, Gathering Strength Women from Burma on Their Rights. Images Asia, January 2002)
In January 2002 the situation for migrant women further deteriorated when the Thai Labour Ministry issued a regulation stating that female foreign workers would be given a medical checkup and those found to be pregnant would not have their licences to work in Thailand renewed. While this regulation was later overturned following protests from human rights groups, many women report that they continue to be dismissed by their employers if they become pregnant. As abortion is illegal in both Thailand and Burma, many women resort to traditional methods to induce abortions which can seriously damage their health.
In 2002, Suzanne Belton, a PhD Candidate at Melbourne University’s Key Centre for Women’s Health, conducted research in Thailand focusing on reproductive health issues of migrant women. Her report notes:
"The preliminary findings of recent research of abortions in Tak [province of Thailand] reveal a serious situation, which is getting worse. In the local Thai hospitals in 2001-2002, twelve Burmese women died from lack of antenatal care, post abortion complications or delivery complications and more than 300 Burmese women were seen with post abortion complications. One woman from a refugee camp died during her 16th pregnancy.
In 2001 at the Mae Tao Clinic, established by Dr Cynthia Maung from Burma to treat Burmese migrants, there were 457 post abortion cases, more than double from 2000. The clinic performed 563 birth deliveries, a comparable number to post abortion cases. However, the numbers are likely much higher as most women still give birth and perform abortions at home with community midwives or abortionists. Of the women interviewed, more than half had been living in Thailand for more than 3 years. This demonstrates the need for long-term intervention strategies and care.
Forty percent of the women interviewed induced their own abortion before going to the clinic or hospital with home-type remedies, massage (pounding and compressing the uterus), high dosages of contraceptive pills or went to an abortionist who puts sticks, nails, etc into the womb. Some women get massive infection of their reproductive organs and lose the ability to ever become pregnant again. Abortions are particularly dangerous since they are illegal in both Thailand and Burma and the abortionists do not appear to be well trained. Legal reforms to liberalize access to clean abortion in both Thailand and Burma would decrease the sickness and deaths.
It costs approximately US$53 for a woman who is hospitalized for post abortion complications in a Thai hospital and about US$230 if she dies from pregnancy related causes. Burmese women in Tak earn about US$45 per month, making hospital fees far beyond their reach.
The research sampling showed that 25% of the women having an abortion experienced five or more pregnancies, which is a serious health risk for the woman. It was found that most women do not receive family planning information while they are inpatients being treated for post abortion care in local Thai hospitals. The availability of information and services could reduce abortions as well as being economical for the women, the Thai health system and NGOs providing services. A one-year contraceptive injection costs US$2.10 and female sterilization costs US$11.60. It was noted that the women were ‘very interested’ in talking about family planning. It was also noted that the women interviewed had little to no education and nearly 25% could not read or write, so alternatives to written information needs to be provided.
Poverty, domestic violence, job retention, ill-timing and community pressure were reasons cited for ending the pregnancy. Abortions and maternal health must be dealt with in the framework of these underlying causes in order for assistance and intervention to be effective and sustainable." (Source: Suzanne Belton, PhD Candidate. Melbourne University Key Centre for Women’s Health in Society Faculty of Medicine. Research conducted through the Mae Tao Clinic. Full report will be published during 2003)
Table 1. Years lived in Thailand of Burmese women experiencing a miscarriage or induced abortion.
Situation for Migrant Children
From April 1999 to March 2001, Save the Children UK conducted research along Burma’s borders with China and Thailand on the situation of Burmese children living in these countries. In the study, researchers found that the majority of migrants from Burma were young people. Beginning at age 13, children from Burma migrate on their own to search for work in neighboring countries. While some children under 13 also migrate on their own, the majority of children this age migrate with their parents or other relatives. The report goes on to note that:
"The interviews in this study revealed extensive debt-bondage, sexual abuse, illegal confinement, confiscation of documents, arrest and extortion, forced overtime, few basic resources and poor living conditions that were overcrowded, insecure and often violent. Sexual abuse was commonly reported among girls and young women, particularly among those involved in sex work and domestic service. The general health problems impacting children and young people were identified as malaria (the most common illness reported), tuberculosis (TB), dengue fever, diarrhea and malnutrition. Reproductive health issues were a major concern among youth and adults at all the project sites….
Along all the borders, most of the children did not attend school and among those who did only a very few had finished primary level education. Those who were displaced or had migrated across the borders cited constant mobility, remoteness, insecurity and lack of documentation as the reasons why their children did not attend school. Economic instability and language barriers were other important factors. There was also an attitude among participants in several of the study sites that formal education would not lead to a good life, even if young people were to finish higher levels of schooling. Cross-border migration was seen as an opportunity to obtain experience and develop practical skills. Consequently, many children reported not going to school or dropping out of school early. These children began working at an early age and were vulnerable to exploitation as a result of their limited knowledge and skills.
Drug production, trafficking and addiction were critical issues identified by the communities at all of the research sites along the borders. Participants noted the problem of drug addiction, particularly among young people, with children as young as nine and ten years old considered vulnerable to experimentation and addiction. Young migrants also reported being introduced to amphetamines by their employer in order to work harder and longer hours. In addition, migrants along all three borders noted the ease of recruiting migrants into the drug trafficking business, and expressed frustration with the inability to deal with drug-related problems in their families and communities.
Child labour was found in all three countries, particularly along the border areas and among migrant populations. This was largely a result of extreme poverty and of children left orphaned or abandoned by their parents. Many young children were observed working largely in the service and entertainment sectors (such as teashops, restaurants and hotels that often included direct and indirect sex work), in agricultural related jobs, or as day labourers or beggars. In addition, child soldiers, both in the army and with armed opposition groups, were found in Myanmar. According to the attitudes and perspectives of those in this study, children were of a ‘workable age’ as early as six or seven years old…
Orphaned children along the border areas were found to be the most vulnerable, often living without assurance of their most basic needs. These children were the most likely to be exploited and trafficked. Abandonment was a common problem, related to drug trafficking and addiction, HIV/AIDS, and loss of contact with family during migration. In addition, migrants’ illegal status often leads to arrest, detention and deportation, with children reporting being treated as adults during this process, often separated from their family and communities." (Source: Caoutte, Therese. Small Dreams Out of Reach, The Lives of Migrant Children and Youth along the Borders of China, Myanmar, and Thailand. (Bangkok: Save the Children UK, 2001)
Another concern with increasing numbers of families migrating from Burma is the situation for children who are born outside of Burma to Burmese parents. In both Thailand and China the respective governments refuse to grant citizenship to children of both legal and illegal immigrants and refugees from Burma. This is highly problematic, as these children are also denied Burmese citizenship under the Burma Citizenship Act, because they were born outside the country and because their parent(s) left Burma illegally.
At present in Thailand there are no clear regulations about how hospitals should deal with the birth of babies born to parents who have illegally entered the country. Usually hospitals simply do not record the births of these children. In Ranong and Samut Sakhon, it has been reported that hospitals remove the birth records of these babies from the last page of the doctor’s appointment books, to prevent the children from claiming Thai nationality in the future. Stateless children suffer discrimination both in the country of their birth as well as in Burma, if and when they return. Without a national ID, people in Burma are unable to access educational opportunities, government employment, or to travel freely within the country. (Source: BLC)
15. 2 Burmese Migrants in Thailand
Throughout 2002 people from Burma continued to flee to neighboring Thailand to escape a deteriorating economy and widespread human rights violations by the military regime. While the SPDC officially closed border crossings with Thailand from May to October, large numbers of people continued to enter Thailand at unofficial crossing sites along the border. According to some estimates there are currently as many as 2 million migrants from Burma and other neighboring countries working in Thailand. Migrant workers from Burma come from a variety of geographical locations and ethnic groups. There are both push and pull factors at work when people make the decision to migrate to Thailand. The pull factors include the close geographical location of Thailand to Burma as well as the demand in Thailand for cheap labor. The push factors include the poor state of the Burmese economy and ongoing human rights violations that are specifically acute in areas along the Thai border. Many workers also report that they have come to Thailand to escape the SPDC’s demands for forced labor in their home states and divisions.
As most people emigrate from Burma due to factors that are both political and economic, it is difficult to make absolute distinctions between economic migrants, political asylum seekers, and refugees. The Royal Thai Government maintains a strict and sometimes arbitrary policy on classifying Burmese who arrive in Thailand, which means that in many cases victims of direct human rights abuses are refused access to refugee camps and international humanitarian aid. These people are faced with the choice of trying to illegally enter the refugee camps or else becoming migrant workers. The more than 100,000 Shans currently working in Thailand as migrant laborers are visible examples of these policies. While human rights abuses by the Burmese military in Shan State, including forced labor, forced relocations, arbitrary arrest, killings and rape have been widely documented, the Thai government continues to deny any Shans refugee status.
An 18 December 2002 article in Irrawaddy magazine included an interview with a corn farmer from southern Shan State, who had recently fled to Thailand. This man said: "We can’t survive due to the authority’s taxes and extortion." The article also reported that farmers in Mon State have also been leaving for Thailand following floods that wiped out their rice crops. These farmers reportedly fled not only because of a lack of food, but also because they were unable to supply the government with the required rice quotas. Other regional analysts predict that due to worsening economic conditions, rapidly increasing prices for basic commodities, and widespread flooding, thousands more people will flee to Thailand in 2003. (Source: Irrawaddy)
Thai Migration Policy and Legal Registration of Migrant Workers
Thailand’s policy on migration prioritizes economic development and national security, sometimes at the expense of protecting the rights of migrant workers. For the past 7 years, Thai migration policy has been drafted through a series of cabinet resolutions which reflect the attitude of whatever administration is currently in office. Contradictions between these resolutions have inhibited the formation of a coherent policy on migration and thus hindered the development of a consistent strategy for implementation.
Thai law defines an illegal alien as a person without Thai citizenship who has entered the Kingdom in violation of section 12 of the Immigration Act of 1979. According to this Act, migrants found to be in the country illegally, will be repatriated to their countries of origin. In March 1992 the Thai cabinet passed the first of a successive number of resolutions which have allowed migrants to pay a fee and apply for a work permit which allows them to work legally in Thailand. The permit limits work to specific industries in designated parts of the country. Migrants with work permits are protected under the 1997 Constitution of the Kingdom of Thailand and covered by most of the provisions in the Labour Protection Act of 1998. The work permit also gives migrants access to the 30-baht health scheme, where each visit to a doctor or clinic costs only 30 baht plus the cost of medicine. Unfortunately enforcement of these protections for migrant workers has been lax, and many workers are not aware of what rights the permit entitles them to and how to respond if these rights are violated.
In addition, Burmese migrant workers often find it difficult to obtain a work permit for a number of reasons. The permit costs 4,450 baht for one year, which makes it too expensive for many workers, who make an average salary of 1,500-2,000 baht a month. In addition, a worker has to be guaranteed by a factory owner or other Thai employer in order to register for a permit. In the past, a key complaint with the work permit system was that registered workers were not allowed to change jobs without losing their legal status. During the September 2002 registration period, changes were made in the regulations which allowed legal workers to change jobs and register with a new employer. These new regulations stated that if and when a registered worker is fired or leaves their job for any reason, they are required to find a new job (and employer to guarantee them) within 7 days or they will lose their permit. This process is still problematic, as in order to register with a new employer, the worker has to first obtain a signature of consent from his or her previous employer. In practice, employers rarely give consent for their workers to switch jobs, as they don’t want employees to move to other factories or businesses which may pay higher salaries. As a result, even with the change in regulations, most workers remain unable to change jobs while retaining their legal status. Due to this, employers can prevent workers from striking or complaining about salaries and working conditions by threatening to fire them.
In some areas of Thailand, specifically in areas on the border with Burma, employers of Burmese workers withhold their employees’ work permits. In these cases, workers are only given a photocopy of their work permit, which is often not accepted by police as valid identification. Workers report that when they are stopped by officials, they are either forced to give bribe money, or else wait for their employer to be contacted to come and vouch for them. In these cases, employers often don’t bother coming to the police station or detention center and the arrested workers are deported and their copy of the work permit confiscated.
Migrants in areas where this practice is common are as a result increasingly choosing not to renew their permits. For example, in Tak province during the November 2002 registration period only 30, 260 Burmese workers registered, compared to the 50, 235 who had registered in 2001. (Source: Bangkok Post)
During the registration renewal period for migrant workers that ran from September 15 to October 15 2002, Thailand instituted a new form, the Tor Dor 13, which migrants had to fill out. This form required that applicants provide their addresses in their home countries, leading some workers to fear that their families in Burma might face harassment from the SPDC which actively discourages illegal migration. Migrants were also afraid that if they gave a false address then they would be banned by the SPDC from returning to Burma in the future.
In a report released in July 2002, Amnesty International noted concerns of illegal migrants being forcibly returned to Burma as many have a "well-founded fear of persecution if they were to be returned."
Working and Living Conditions
In July 2002, Amnesty International released a report, "Myanmar: Lack of Security in Counter-Insurgency Areas," which noted that migrants in Thailand face many difficulties and abuses. AI researchers interviewed 100 Burmese migrants in Thailand who reported that they had paid between 4,500 and 10,000 baht (US$104 to 233) to be brought to Thailand by human smugglers.
Once in Thailand, Burmese migrants work in a number of industries and service sectors, often in dirty and sometimes dangerous conditions for pay that is far below the Thai minimum wage. Workers in factories report that there are many injuries that occur and that workers rarely receive any compensation for work related accidents or deaths. A number of agricultural workers suffer from respiratory or other problems as a result of long-term exposure to chemical pesticide spray. These workers typically are not given masks, gloves or other protective gear even when they are in contact with chemicals that are known to be harmful.
All migrant workers face a common fear of arrest and deportation. This fear keeps many migrants from moving freely and impedes their access to health care and other social services that may be available. For this reason migrants suffer in silence from easily treatable diseases. The spread of communicable diseases is facilitated by lack of access to health care facilities and medicine, cramped living conditions and poor sanitation. Lack of knowledge of the local language also prevents migrants from seeking help when they face unhealthy or dangerous situations. This combination of fear of arrest and lack of knowledge about the laws, customs and language of their host country means that migrants are easily exploited and abused by their employers, Thai officials and others.
Repatriation of Migrant Workers
Before February 2002, illegal migrants deported from Thailand were often simply dropped off at some point on the border, after which they often returned to Thailand.
In late 2001, the Thai and Burmese Governments entered into negotiations about the repatriation of illegal workers. The SPDC agreed to set up a number of holding centers or reception camps directly on the border inside Burma. In February 2002, following a three day visit to Burma, Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai said that the SPDC had agreed to accept back thousands of undocumented workers and had "assured [him] they will not be prosecuted." (Source: Bangkok Post)
Following this, a reception center for returning migrants was established in Myawaddy. While the Thai government has actively encouraged international organizations to assist with the repatriation process, at present there are no international organizations regularly monitoring conditions at this center.
The reception center in Myawaddy (In Burmese Ke Say Yee Sa Kan) is run by the Directorate of the Defense Service Intelligence (DSI) of the Ministry of Defense. Between February and May 2002, over 19,000 migrants from Burma were repatriated and 3,681 people were processed through the Myawaddy Reception Center. (Source: Bangkok Post, New Light of Myanmar) At the reception center, deportees are reportedly placed under a combined police, military and DKBA guard. All returned migrants are screened through a series of interviews with immigration and public health officials, and members of military intelligence.
Thai authorities do not conduct any screening before deportation to determine if any among those deported are refugees or asylum seekers. Instead, local Thai officials regularly assume that all people without ID documents outside the refugee camps are illegal immigrants. This arbitrary definition ignores the fact that although many people do migrate to Thailand for economic reasons, many others are also refugees, political exiles and activists. Often an individual falls into more than one, if not all categories. For example, many refugees attempt to supplement their inadequate diet by leaving their assigned refugee camps illegally, and working for short-term contracts. Others come to Thailand as either refugees or illegal immigrants, and then become involved with some of the many Burmese opposition groups based in Mae Sot. Often people became refugees because they were politically active inside Burma.
SPDC officials specifically screen returned migrants for those who may be affiliated with political opposition groups. Thai authorities also submit personal data on deportees to SPDC officials at the time of repatriation. These officials then cross-check this information with their own files to search for dissidents. As most political activity is criminalized in Burma, this process places past and present politically active deportees at severe risk of arrest, interrogation, torture, and arbitrary detention.
In addition to political screening, returned migrants are also tested for a number of communicable diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Malaria, TB, and Sexually Transmitted Diseases. A number of human rights organizations have protested this mandatory HIV/AIDS testing, and the reported separation of at least 20 individuals who tested positive for HIV/AIDS. Such mandatory testing contravenes UN HIV Principles and Guidelines to which Thailand and Burma are signatory.
Deportees have also reported that as part of an ongoing campaign to discourage illegal emigration, SPDC officials at the reception camp are now photographing and maintaining records of personal data on all deportees. Those deported are informed that if the SPDC officials collect three photographs of one returnee, (i.e. if someone is deported through the reception camp three times) then that person will be arrested for illegal emigration. According to SPDC regulation 367/120-(b)(1), these individuals can be sentenced to up to 7 years imprisonment.
At the end of the screening process it appears that people are dealt with in one of two ways; those who are able to find a resident of Myawaddy prepared to vouch for them are simply released after paying between 2,000-3,500 kyat; while the remainder are transported by truck back to their home districts. Individuals transported back to their home districts are required to pay a transportation fee which varies according to distance. It costs for example, only 150 kyat to be transported to nearby Moulmien but 1400 kyat to be deported to Arakan State. People who have no relatives or friends in Myawaddy to vouch for them and who cannot afford to pay this transportation fee sometimes have to stay in the area working as lookouts to guard train tracks, bridges and government buildings until they can save up the cost of the repatriation fee.
Many people attempt to evade the screening process and/or forced transfer to their home districts by paying bribes to officials. Other deportees apparently are able to bribe their way out at the customs checkpoint on arrival, or else manage to run away during transfer back to their home districts. Having escaped or bribed their way out of official custody, it appears to be a relatively simple matter for migrants to secretly cross the border and re-enter Thailand illegally. Many people wade across the Moei River, which separates the two countries, everyday.
The SPDC actively discourages people, and especially women from migrating abroad. One reason for this is that the regime fears that migrants will report on human rights abuses inside the country to opposition groups or other human rights organizations. Major General Kyaw Win has stated that part of the SPDC’s "Anti-Human Trafficking Campaign" includes efforts to "teach people about negative consequences of working abroad." This campaign appears to focus less on education than on threats and punishment of people found to have worked, or planning to work, abroad. In a number of states and Divisions the SPDC is creating "Human Trafficking Prevention Committees" which have been ordered to collect data on everyone between 16 and 25 years of age, and to investigate anyone traveling to border areas. (Source: Altsean)
Women and girls have been specifically targeted in these campaigns. Some women who return to their villages in Burma have reportedly been made to sign documents pledging to the authorities that they will not return to Thailand. The Myanmar Women’s Affair Association chairperson Dr. Daw Khin Win Shwe, wife of Gen. Khin Nyunt issued an order that young women be prohibited from working in Thailand in order to prevent trafficking. Young women are further prohibited from traveling to Thailand except in the company of a guardian. Women who are found to have disobeyed this order can be put in prison for one to three years. Male deportees have reported that if they were returned to their home towns they also would have been required to sign such a pledge. After doing so they then are in jeopardy of a seven-year prison term if arrested attempting to return to Thailand or upon deportation.
2002 Timeline of Events for Burmese Migrants in Thailand
lOn 2 January, Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai reported plans for Thailand and Burma to establish a task force aimed at repatriating illegal workers back to Burma. The task force scheduled a meeting at the end of February or in early March to decide what should be done about the approximately 100,000 Burmese workers who had not yet registered with Thai authorities. In the meantime, some of the workers would continue to be held in a holding centre on Burma’s side of the border in Myawaddy, across the border from Thailand’s Tak province. The Thai Foreign Minister reported that both countries would be responsible for managing repatriation of illegal workers. Paisarn Preutiporn, secretary-general of the Office of the Administrative Commission on Irregular Immigrant Workers, noted that the Thai government plans to ask the SPDC to arrange two more sites in addition to Myawaddy: Phaya Thongsu town opposite Kanchanaburi, and Kawthaung (Victoria Point) opposite Ranong, to process illegal migrant being repatriated. The secretary-general also stated that immigrant workers found to be suffering from tuberculosis, leprosy, elephantiasis, syphilis, alcoholism or mental illness will not have their work permits renewed. (Source: News Summary/ Burma Issues)
lOn 26 January the bodies of 14 Karen migrant workers were found with their throats cut near the border with Burma in Mae Ramat district, Tak province. The bodies of seven men and seven women aged 14-45 were found floating near the banks of Huay Mae Lamao stream in tambon Mae Jarao. An autopsy found they were murdered more than 10 days ago, some from stab wounds to the body. The killer cut their throats later. On 28th January two more bodies were found, and Thai police the next day reported that the death toll had risen to 20 after four more bodies were pulled from the Moei river blindfolded with their hands and feet bound, their throats cut and beyond recognition. Police stated that they suspected the murders were connected to either conflicts in the drug trade or human smuggling. However, Thongmuan Sitthikaew, head of Wang Pha village in the district, said the recent victims were illegal workers. He believed they might have been killed by a local employer who did not want to pay them wages. (News Summary/Burma Issues)
lOn 1 February following a visit to Rangoon, Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai, reported that the SPDC requested that Thailand submit a list of illegal migrant workers to be sent back to Burma so their nationality can be verified. As part of this list, the SPDC stated that they wanted Thailand to record migrants’ names and home addresses in Burma, and also submit the workers’ photos and identity cards for verification by Burmese authorities. The ministry’s permanent secretary, Tej Bunnag said that [regarding repatriated migrants] "If all of them hold Burmese nationality, they should have house registration documents. But if they are ethnic minorities, they will be investigated and reports will be sent to Burma." Mr. Tej also stated that Burmese officials had been instructed not to subject returnees to punishment for having left Burma illegally. (Source: "Rangoon to verify status of migrants," Feb 9. Bangkok Post/Burma Issues)
lAt the beginning of February, Police announced that they will launch a four-month campaign, to crack down on illegal foreign labourers in big cities. The campaign will run from February 10 to June 10 in nine provinces: Tak, Ranong, Phuket, Samut Sakhon, Bangkok, Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai, Samut Prakan and Sa Kaeo. Paisal Pruthiporn, head of the labour ministry’s office of alien workers, said illegal migrant workers who are arrested face a maximum jail term of three months and a maximum fine of 5,000 baht ($113.60) followed by deportation. Employers found hiring illegal workers also face a maximum penalty of three years in jail and a 60,000-baht fine. (News Summary/Burma Issues)
lOn 9 February more than 200 Burmese illegal workers were arrested in Mae Sot, Tak Province at the start of a three-month long crackdown against illegal workers. The arrested workers were sent back to Myawaddy the next morning and were detained in the newly built detention center near the Friendship Bridge in Myawaddy. (Source: Network Media Group)
lOn 11 February, Thai army commander, Lt-Gen Udomchai Ongkhasing, shut border checkpoints in Mae Sot and Mae Ramat districts while inquiries continued into the unexplained deaths of 20 people whose bodies were found in a stream the previous week. Crossings at Wang Kaew and Mae Kit Mai villages in Mae Sot district and Wang Pha village in Mae Ramat district were temporarily closed. News sources reported that a major investigation had been set up into the murders, involving hundreds of police from Mae Sot, Mae Ramat and Tha Song Yang districts and border patrol police from the 345th and 346th companies. Reportedly, both the Thai military and Burmese authorities in Myawaddy were co-operating in the investigation. (Source: "Thailand shuts Myanmar crossing in murder probe," Feb 11. Reuters/Burma Issues) l On 20 February, Five workers from a lead melting factory in Mae Sot, were fired and many other workers were arrested by police, following an argument between the workers and their employer. The argument allegedly began when the workers asked for their salaries. One worker from the factory explained the cause of the workers’ complaints: "some workers are working with monthly salary of 600-700 while others get 1200 baht. They were not paid for 7 months and the owner owed them 5000 to 8000 baht each. The problem started when the owner paid them only 100 baht although they asked for 500 baht each for general expenses. The majority of workers are ethnic Karen and Pa-O nationals and they had to handle lead without any protection resulting in skin diseases and stomach ulcers." (Source: "Burmese workers expelled from work for asking their salaries," Feb 20. Network Media Group/Burma Issues)
lOn 20 February one hundred workers were sent back to Myawaddy from Thailand, amongst them was a migrant from Pegu who was found to be infected with HIV and was refused permission to return to his home. According to a source in Myawaddy the man was detained there by the military regime. The other workers, including 64 men and 35 women, were sent on to Pa-an that same night at 8:00 PM in two trucks. What happened to these workers when they reached Pa-an is not yet known. A multi-departmental investigation team, lead by Major Ye Kyaw Thu under supervision of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, checked and interrogated all the workers when they reached Myawaddy. The check up and interrogation included an interview, personal data recording, a photo and medical check up, including a blood test. The SPDC officials have not made clear what action they plan to take against the worker who tested positive for HIV. (Source: "Migrant worker with HIV not allowed back home", February 22, Network Media Group/Burma Issues)
lOn 26 February Thai police arrested over 500 illegal foreign workers in Tak province. It was reported that most of the illegal workers came from Burma. They were arrested when the police inspected local firms and factories in the province along the Thai-Burma border. Many of the arrested workers were found to be infected with malaria and other infectious diseases. The crackdown followed the closure of the official nation-wide registration of illegal alien workers from Burma, Laos, and Cambodia late last year. Police said illegal alien workers who failed to turn out for this registration as legal workers would be sternly cracked down upon. Their employers would also be fined and would be responsible for deportation costs of the illegal workers. (Source: "Thai police arrest 500 Illegal Alien Workers", February 26, Xinhuanet/Burma Issues)
lOn 5 March police discovered the bodies of 13 migrant workers from Burma in sandbags in a deserted quarry near the Thai-Cambodian border. Police reported that it appeared that the victims had been murdered at another site and then brought to the quarry by truck. Some of the bodies of the five male and eight female victims had broken necks. Several bodies carried Burmese identification cards or border passes for entering Thailand via Mae Sot on the Thai-Burma border on March 2. Autopsies have found that the 13 died from suffocation after they were covered in vegetables and rice to escape detection from border patrols. Police have apprehended two suspects and are looking for four more believed to be involved in this case. The arrested are believed to be part of an illegal people smuggling ring. (Source: News Summary/Burma Issues)
lOn 25 March the one month worker registration period ended. During this registration more than 200,000 of the 500,000 registered alien workers failed to have their six-month work permits renewed. Supat Kukhun, deputy secretary-general of the alien labour management office, said the number of alien workers who reported for work permit renewals between Feb 24-March 25 was only around 350,000. (Source:"200,000 fail to renew their work permits", March 26, Bangkok Post/Burma Issues)
lOn 9 April it was reported that Burma and Thailand had agreed on a plan to repatriate more than 500,000 Burmese illegal immigrants in Thailand. As part of the deal, Thai Foreign Minister Surakiart Sathirathai told the BBC, the Burmese workers will be screened for HIV. Mr. Surakiart said those workers who were diagnosed as HIV positive would be separated from the other illegal immigrants and would be treated as part of a special repatriation scheme. (Source: "Burmese migrants face HIV test", April 9, BBC/Burma Issues)
lOn 4 May a Thai official reported that more than 700 workers from Burma suffering from communicable diseases including HIV will be deported soon back to Burma. The workers were identified during medical checkups, which are mandatory for foreign workers at the time of renewal of their work permits, Dr. Winai Withoonkija, permanent secretary of the Public Health Ministry, told reporters. He said 737 Burma workers among the 40,000 tested during the last two months would be deported. (Source:"Thailand to deport 737 Myanmar workers because of disease", May 4, Associated Press/Burma Issues)
lOn 21 May the SPDC ordered all border crossings with Thailand closed. This order followed a skirmish the day before which involved the SSA, UWSA, as well as some Thai and Burmese army troops. Following the attack, the SPDC accused Thailand of aiding the SSA opposition army troops. Thai Deputy Defense Minister Yuthasak Saaiprapha denied this allegation saying: "Thailand was not involved in the border fighting and it did not back any ethnic faction in Myanmar." The SSA also released a statement saying that attacks on May 20th had been part of an anti-drug campaign, and that SPDC army camps had been included in the attack because they in close proximity to targets. The statement went on to note that UWSA camps and drug refineries were under the protection of SPDC troops. Residents in Mae Sot report that following the order to close the border, the SPDC erected barbed wire on the Mae Sot/Myawaddy Friendship Bridge and placed soldiers along the bridge on standby. (Source: "Junta Issues Directive, May 2002, Irrawaddy)
lOn 10 June Thailand’s Interior Ministry forbade staff from issuing birth registration documents to children of undocumented migrants, although it is permissible under Thai law to issue the papers. Without this registration, children are barred from access to welfare, health and education services. Many illegal migrants fear arrest and thus don’t attempt to register their children. (Source: BLC)
lOn 17 July a Burmese woman died of burn injuries she suffered after being set on fire allegedly as punishment for stealing from her Thai employer. 18-year-old Ba Suu died in the hospital nine days after she was found lying on a road by a passer-by in Uthai Thani province. Ba Suu had told police that she worked as a maid at the house of a factory owner, who accused her of stealing a gold necklace. When she denied the accusations, she was beaten up and taken away by two men who doused her with gasoline and set her on fire. She suffered burns on more than half her body, including her chest, back and both arms. Police say that because the woman was kept a virtual prisoner in the house, she was unable to tell police details about its location. (Source: ‘Myanmar woman dies of burn injuries blamed on Thai employer’, AP, July 18/Burma Issues)
lOn 5 August a 12-year old Burmese girl was raped by a 47-year-old man who acted as a volunteer outreach worker for the international aid organization, World Vision. The incident occurred in the victim’s neighborhood in the Islam Bankalone slum in Mae Sot. After consulting with religious leaders the girl’s parents reported the case to police the following day, despite fearing their actions would prompt Thai authorities to deport them as illegal migrants. Both the family and the accused, a Burmese citizen identified only as Salawut, are members of the Muslim refugee community living in Thailand. Police took the victim for an examination, which confirmed she had been sexually assaulted. The family said that a World Vision staff member visited their home shortly after the incident and promised to take responsibility for the case and provide assistance to the victim, but after that they heard nothing from the agency. The police investigation has also made no progress, they say. Social workers stated that they believed the family’s case was being ignored because they are illegal migrants. (Source: ‘Myanmar migrant family complain daughter’s rape has gone ignored’, Agence France Presse, August 22/Burma Issues)
lOn 22 August it was reported that illegal migrant workers had won two million baht compensation after filing a lawsuit against their employer. Saranya Chandchuay, of the Foundation for Women, said 30 ethnic Karen women, many aged under 18, were rescued from the Bang Bon Garment factory in October 2000. Ms Saranya said that at the factory, the women worked from 7am to 9pm without a holiday. Sometimes, work carried on until after midnight. The factory gate was locked to prevent them leaving. The workers were paid 40 baht a month. Women who lasted a year would get small extra payments of 1,200 - 1,500 baht a month. Meager food, mainly chicken bones and vegetables were provided. The foundation, together with the Foundation for Child Development, took the case to the central labour court. Criminal charges were finally dropped by the attorney general, and the company was told to pay 2.1 million baht of the 41 million baht demanded in a civil suit. The payment was to be made in instalments, starting in November last year. Fifteen per cent interest was to be charged on delays. The company, however, suspended payments after surrendering only a small amount. The foundation had to pursue the case with the Legal Execution Department, as the workers had been sent back to Burma. This was the first case involving labor exploitation of migrant workers to go to court. The court decision was seen by academics and activists as a sign of progress in the legal system. (Source: ‘Slave Workers Win Historic Court Battle’, Bangkok Post, August 22/Burma Issues)
lOn 29 August DVB reported that earlier in the month a Burmese female illegal migrant in Thailand was raped while in police custody. Ma Tin Tin Moe and her husband Ko Maung Soe, Mon State residents had been arrested in the town of Prakyub, Prakyub Province, South Thailand and charged with working illegally. After the arrest, husband and wife were held in different rooms. During the night, Ma Tin Tin Moe (age 27 years) was raped, first by a single Thai male, and then gang raped. Her husband Ko Maung Soe in the adjoining room could hear everything that was happening. Both husband and wife hanged themselves the next morning with one longyi. (Source: DVB)
lOn 20 September, 20 Burmese workers, including 5 women, escaped from a cell in the Mae Sot Police Detention Center. One resident who went to the police station reported that police found the iron sieve that cover the windows of the women’s cell on the first floor had been cut by a hacksaw. According to a leader from a Burmese workers’ association, the escapees had been detained for 3-4 months in the detention cell in order to serve as witnesses against their factory owner who was on trial for hiring illegal workers. (Source: Network Media Group)
lOn 1 October Mizzima News Group reported that human trafficking from Burma to Thailand had been increasing due to worsening economic conditions in Burma. The Mizzima article reported that two gangs of human traffickers were operating from Kyaikto town, and one gang from Kyaikmayaw town, both in Mon State. Reportedly, these traffickers smuggle between five and twenty people per day to Mae Sot town, Thailand, and onwards to Chiangmai, Bangkok and Malaysia at a cost of 100,000 Kyats per person. The article stated that it is common for human traffickers to deceive their customers, take their money and then kill them, or else sell them into forced labor or sex work.
The article went on to name the Yetuingung village headman in Kyaikmayaw town, U Aadu, and the son of the principal of the Islamic college, Aadu Sein, as being involved in human trafficking. Allegedly the leaders of the Kyaihtthu town human trafficking gang are Mon nationals U Kyaw Oo and Ma Tin San. While human traffickers in Burma are prosecuted and sometimes arrested on military orders, lower ranking military officers reportedly regularly ask for bribes and then release them. On 25 September, local Military Intelligence personnel arrested U Kyaw Oo and Ma Tin San in Kyaikto town while at the same time, other human traffickers were arrested in Kyaikmayaw. However local residents reported that all those arrested were immediately released after paying 1 million Kyats to the police. According to locals, human traffickers give 100,000 kyats to the Police and Village Peace and Development Authorities, which allow them to continue their work unimpeded. (Source: Mizzima)
lOn 15 October the Thai-Burma border reopened after a 5 month closure. The Bangkok Post reported that the closure cost Burma around 300 million baht or close to US$ 7 million in lost revenue. The closure also led to increasing devaluation of the Burmese kyat. "In the five months the border remained closed, the Mae Sot checkpoint has lost 2.1 billion baht on import and export taxes. The total losses for all checkpoints equals about five billion baht," reported Boontian Chokewiwat, Mae Sot customs chief. He further reported that when the border was opened, the daily value of goods crossing the Myawaddy-Mae Sot checkpoint alone was 18 million baht (around $800,000). Burma closed its borders with Thailand following a skirmish involving Thai and Burmese soldiers. The incident also involved armed opposition groups whom the SPDC claims were being supported by the Thai military. (Source: ‘Counting the Cost of Closure,’Irrawaddy, November 2002)
lOn 14 December approximately 600 hundred Burmese garment workers in Mae Sot were fired after demanding that 40 employees be reinstated who had been terminated for requesting overdue wages as well as a raise. The workers from Rian Thong Apparel factory said that they were also protesting the amount of monthly leave granted to them by the factory’s owner, Yan How, who is from Taiwan. Mr. Yan How said that he dismissed the workers after they took more than the allotted half-day off per month.
Workers complain that a half-day off per month is insufficient to allow them to buy monthly rations or to remit money back to Burma. Workers have also reported that Mr Yan was taking 3 percent of their wages each month for unknown reasons and that he never paid overtime or set a piece rate for knitters. On Saturday, Mr Yan’s son paid the workers a ten-day deposit as well as back wages in front of local police, who had been called to maintain security at the factory. But workers said they were not given their work permits despite paying for them. Some workers said they would like to sue Mr Yan, but without work permits they did not think that was possible. Others said they were going to return to Burma and look for work despite the low wages. "We can earn enough for food in Burma, but the income is not enough for clothes, medicine or anything else," said one worker. (Source: ‘Hundreds Fired in Mae Sot,’ Irrawaddy, December 16 2002)
lFrom 29 December onwards, Thailand instituted new visa rules for Burmese passport holder. Previously, Burmese passport holders were granted visas upon arrival to Thailand. Following these new regulations Burmese are now required to apply for visas inside Burma. This new rule has made it extremely difficult for Burmese refugees and political dissidents to maintain a legal status in Thailand as many cannot re-enter Burma except at great risk to their personal security. (Source: Altsean)
# See to Appendix A Figure 1,2 & Map
15. 3 Situation of Burmese Migrants in Singapore
For decades, Burmese migrants have worked legally in Singapore. The number of Burmese in Singapore began increasing in the mid 1980’s as a result of the country’s construction boom and simultaneous labor shortage. Some Burmese migrants in Singapore are highly educated and have obtained work as doctors and professors. However the majority of Burmese workers labor in low-level jobs including construction work, carpentry, welding, and painting.
Before January 1998, travel to Singapore was facilitated by the fact that Burmese could get a visa-on-arrival for a seven-day stay. Currently however Burmese must apply for visas from the Singapore embassy in Rangoon. People who wish to get a work visa must provide a work permit and a sponsor letter, documents that are only available through naturalized Singapore citizens, Burmese with Permanent Resident (PR) status, or to those who already have been granted an official Employee Pass (EP).
Only educated individuals are eligible to receive Singaporean work visas, and the prerequisites for an EP include a university degree from Burma or enrollment in one of Singapore’s polytechnic schools. Visa applicants who have no one to sponsor them have to leave a deposit of 2,000 Foreign Exchange Certificates (FECs) in addition to the 18 FEC visa fee. (One FEC is approximately 960 kyat). Individuals who overstay their visa lose this deposit.
For many people, these fees are only part of the money they must spend to obtain a permit to legally work in Singapore. In Rangoon, job broker agencies connected to Singapore businesses charge high fees to facilitate the bureaucratic process of obtaining a work visa. These agencies charge between 1,000,000 to 1, 200, 000 kyat to arrange for applicants’ passports, air tickets, and job training that can last up to six months. Some migrants find that it can take up to 8 months after this initial payment before they arrive in Singapore and begin to work off this debt. There are also a large number of fly-by-night brokers who frequently swindle people out of their money. For the majority of Burmese citizens, these high visa costs effectively prevent them from being able to pursue the option of working legally in Singapore.
While legal workers in Singapore earn vastly more than they could in Burma, their expenses can also be very high. Legal workers make an average of about S$16 (9,200 kyat) per day, while more skilled workers earn slightly more. Burmese workers make about S$600 (345,000 kyat) per month, with basic living costs running from S$80-100. In addition The SPDC charges citizens a 10% tax on overseas earnings and workers must also pay a flat tax of S$30 to the Singapore government. If workers need to renew their passports they must pay the Burmese government S$300 and replacing a worn or lost passport costs S$1,400.
The majority of illegal Burmese migrants arrive in Singapore as stowaways on ships. These workers generally undertake menial labor in restaurants, factories, and on construction sites. Without legal status they are often forced to pay inflated rent costs form corrupt landlords and can be subjected to arbitrary arrest by officials, even in their own homes. Burmese arrested in Singapore for illegal entry are repatriated back to Burma, provided they have the money to pay the transport costs. If arrested migrants do not have this money, then they’re forced to stay in prison and work until they are able to earn the money needed. It has been reported that migrants caught working illegally have also been subjected to caning, a legal form of punishment in Singapore. (Source: "Laboring in the Lion City," Irrawaddy, October 2002)
15. 4 Situation of Burmese Migrants in Malaysia
According to the Malaysian Government, in August 2002 there were approximately 16,000 Burmese working legally in the country. The majority of Burmese migrants work in Malaysia’s construction, garment and food processing industries, and are reportedly paid more than 700 ringgits (about 184 US dollars) per month. (Source: Xinhua)
SPDC and Malaysian Government Continue Agreement to Issue Work Permits
On 2nd August the Irrawaddy reported that: "Burmese residents who are either active soldiers or sons of retired or presently enlisted soldiers will have the opportunity to work in Malaysia as part of a bilateral agreement between the two governments, according to residents of Rangoon. Fifty-thousand work permits are to be issued in the deal, and the distribution of the permits is to be handled by the Myanmar War Veterans Organization (MWVO). The first batch of Burmese workers was sent to Malaysia in June. According to The Myanmar Times, the recent program is a continuation of a work program that was first implemented last August.
Individuals selected for this program will have to pay 50,000 kyat (US$ 55) to the MWVO in Rangoon. The MWVO, however, will cover the cost of their passport, airfare to Malaysia, a deposit fee of 1,800 Malaysian Ringgits (1 USD=3.8 RM) as well as the cost of an initial medical check-up, according to a MWVO official in Rangoon. The workers are to receive 18 RM per day and 3.5 RM for each hour of overtime. However, employers are reportedly garnishing 270 RM per month from the workers in order to reimburse the MWVO for arrangement fees, according to residents in Rangoon. It remains unclear how long their wages are to be garnished. The workers will also be provided with accommodation.
Individuals who have already been accepted in to the program are reportedly taking a training course at the former Technical High School (THS) in Rangoon’s Aung San Township, according to a township resident. He added that the course does not involve training for the workers new jobs, but on how they should properly discipline themselves once in Malaysia. In Mae Sot, Thailand, across from Myawaddy, Burma, a spokesperson from the Aurora staffing agency told The Irrawaddy that over the last three months, Burmese workers living in Thailand had returned to Rangoon in hopes of receiving a Malaysian permit. He said most of the workers, however, had already returned to Thailand, after feeling that the Program was more of a scam than anything else.
Burmese have been heading to Malaysia since early this year as part of another program established between the Malaysian government and the regime’s de facto political party, the Union Solidarity and Development Association (USDA). The Malaysian government announced last October that it would issue 30,000 work permits to Burmese workers. The permits, however, were not available to Burmese workers who were already living in Malaysia. The USDA allegedly sold the applications for 500 kyat each. The USDA also opened language schools in Rangoon, Mandalay and Pegu for workers heading to Malaysia.
Both programs have been highly criticized for only being open to individuals with connections to the military. Thousands of Burmese currently live and work illegally in Malaysia, but are not eligible for either program." (Source: "Malaysian Work Program Begins", The Irrawaddy, August 2)
Five Workers Drown in Attempts to Avoid Arrest
On 6 August a Burmese worker died in Kuala Lumpur after jumping into a disused mining pool in an attempt to escape arrest. The incident occurred while police were conducting an operation against illegal immigrants. Yunos Yakob, age 20, and his brother Yusof Yakob, 26 had worked at the Selayang wholesale market as vegetable sellers for several years. Yunus’s death occurred on the same day that he and his brother were planning a return visit to Burma. Yunos is among five other illegal immigrants, mostly Burmese and Indonesians, who are believed to have drowned after they jumped into the pool beside the Selayang wholesale market to escape arrest. A total of 50 people reportedly jumped in the pool during the police operation. (Source: ‘Tragedy mars plan to return to Myanmar’, The Star, August 09/Burma Issues)
Illegal Migrants Face Fines, Imprisonment and Whipping
On 6 February the Malaysian Government reported that it will sanction the whipping of illegal immigrants and their employers, in response to the growing problem of foreign aliens. Deputy Prime Minister Abdullah Ahmad Badawi stated that the government will amend immigration laws in March 2002 to allow for tougher penalties against illegals and those who hire or rent houses to them. (Source: "Malaysia says it will whip illegal immigrants,"Feb 6. Reuters/Burma Issues)
On 21 August the Malaysian national news agency, Bernama reported that Five men from Burma had been sentenced to six months in prison in the northern state of Perlis. Four of the men were sentenced to two strokes of a cane. The fifth man was not caned because he was over 50 years old. Amnesty International urged the Malaysian government not to impose further whipping sentences, calling them "cruel, inhuman and degrading." The group released a statement urging that: "International standards make clear that such treatment constitutes torture..Such a punishment should have no place in today’s world."
These arrests occurred as part of a nation-wide crackdown on illegal workers in Malaysia which has caused hundreds of thousands of illegal migrants to flee the country. On August 1st, Malaysia began enforcing laws where illegal migrants could be fined up to 10,000 ringgit ($2,600 US); issuing mandatory prison terms of up to five years; and sentencing illegals to up to six strokes of the cane. (Source: ‘Prison builders sent to prison’, Agence France Presse, August/Burma Issues)
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