BANGKOK — Thailand's Minister of Labor will visit Myanmar next week to discuss reducing the amount of time Burmese workers are required to stay in Myanmar before returning to Thailand, state media reported.
The current Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) between the two countries requires Burmese workers to return to Myanmar for three years after four years of working in Thailand.
Thai Minister of Labor Gen. Surasak Karnjanarat will meet with his counterpart in Myanmar on 21-23 May to suggest the mandatory "return stay" be reduced from three years to three months, in order to help assuage labor shortages in Thailand.
In total, an estimated two million people from Myanmar live and work in Thailand, many of whom lack proper documentation and are thus vulnerable to exploitation by Thai employers and human traffickers.
Many Burmese migrants work in dangerous environments without medical insurance, struggling to earn Thailand’s 300 baht daily minimum wage. Severe labor shortages in Thailand's fishing industry has also led many boat captains to staff their ships with Burmese men who have been duped by traffickers into working on the boats as slaves.
Burmese boat people turned away
Meanwhile, Thai junta chairman Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha warned today that Thailand could not accept boatloads of Burmese migrants who are currently languishing at sea because they might "steal the jobs and livelihoods of Thais," Reuters reported.
The boats are carrying mostly Bangladeshis and Rohingyas, a Muslim minority that faces state-sponsored discrimination in Myanmar. The surge of boatpeople in the Andaman sea followed a crackdown on established human smuggling routes this month in Thailand, where migrants are often brought to land before traveling on to Malaysia.
6,000 people are estimated to be stranded off shore with dwindling supplies of food and water, as no country in the region appears willing to take the migrants in.
Thai authorities say their policy to is provide food and humanitarian assistance, and then encourage the boats to continue to their final destination, usually Malaysia or Indonesia. Migrants that land on Thai soil will be prosecuted for illegal entry, a government spokesperson said yesterday.
Indonesian and Malaysian authorities have also balked at the influx of migrants, pushing some boats back out to sea.
Thailand has scheduled an international summit to address the mounting humanitarian crisis on 29 May, but the UN and other human rights agencies say immediate action must be taken to prevent a tragic loss of life.
"The first priority is to save lives," Volker Türk, a UNHCR official, said in a press release. "Instead of competing to avoid responsibility, it is key for States to share the responsibility to disembark these people immediately."
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