By Bruce Fan
Recent international spotlight has been focused on the two Myanmar migrants who were allegedly tortured by police to extract a “confession” for murdering two British tourists in Thailand. The trail is still underway. The defense lawyer representing the migrants alleges that the Burmese migrants were coerced to make a false confession and are not the actual perpetrators of the crime.
Both migrants have recounted the various words spoken and actions taken by the police prior to the “confessions”. For instance, during their arrest, a police officer told one of the migrants that “those who don’t have passports don’t have rights…if they disappear, nobody would notice.” Such a statement insinuated what was to come for the two migrants as they were separated and tortured individually. To begin, one of the migrants named Nakhon stated that “police officers flicked his genitals hard, pulled his legs apart and took photographs of him naked.”Furthermore, the police “kicked him in the back, punched him, slapped him, threatened to tie him to a rock and drop him in the sea, chop off his arms and legs, throw his body into the sea to feed the fish.” Zaw Lin, the other migrant, stated that police explicitly told him that if he didn’t confess guilt to the crimes then he would be killed. Proof has also been given on the side of the defense as prison doctors have confirmed evidence of such injuries from the claimed torture. If anything, the key words spoken and actions taken by the Thai Police during torture serve to show the lack of rights afforded to Burmese migrants in Thailand. And in response to such alleged police actions to the trial, many rights group are defending the migrants, stating that they are being used as scapegoats for the crime simply because they are undocumented migrants who are denied rights in Thailand.
This case serves to highlight the issue of rights for the undocumented Burmese in Thailand that has been occurring for quite some time now. Generally, rights have been non-existent for Burmese undocumented migrants. Often times, Burmese migrants face severe worker exploitation with overworked hours, wages under national regulation, and other forms of mistreatment. The International Organization for Migration’s estimates that 1.4 million unregistered workers and family members are being legally unprotected from severe exploitation by Thailand’s industries.Additionally, many migrants have to pay money to traverse to Thailand only to have their wages “cut and passports and work permits confiscated by the agent.” For example, Soe Min Pai and his fellow workers were forced to work for free for 10 days upon arriving in Thailand, and still do not receive the full wages that were promised to them initially.To add, any migrants who are injured on-the-job receive no compensation. For example, Niang Lin is a migrant worker in Thailand who “lost his hand in a machine accident at a plastics factory and received no compensation until a local NGO HRDF helped out.”
Undocumented Burmese women also face the dangers of rape and sexual abuse in Thailand. Street gangs often rape Burmese women by justifying that “Burmese women are illegal migrants and we can’t be arrested if we rape them”. Such actions are especially unsettling as the Thai government and police do little to nothing to protect these women. For instance, the Raks Thai Foundation Lawyer states that “only five percent of rape complaints are followed up by the authorities…if you are Burmese, your case is delayed and you can’t get fair justice”. Furthermore, many victims of rape do not even dare report such crimes because they feel ashamed and fear deportation by the Thai government. As a result, such crimes are going unnoticed and unpunished as Burmese women have little to choice but to remain silent in Thailand.
One may then wonder why it is that the Burmese are still flocking over to Thailand and why so many choose remain there despite such horrid working conditions. The answer is both political and economic. To begin, many Burmese left for Thailand due to the political instability that occurred in Myanmar under its military dictatorship that reigned there in full force till 2011. Under this dictatorship, numerous human rights were abused and any opposition was highly oppressed. The ruthlessness of the dictatorship can be shown through the Democracy Summer’s 4-day massacre, as troops killed at least 10,000 protesters across the country during August of 1988. Despite elections and the release of Aung San Suu Kyi from house arrest, many Burmese continue to flock to and stay in Thailand because the military dictatorship still survives during this transition time, and still could possibly return sometime in the future. Economically speaking, Burmese undocumented migrants remain upset because a huge wage differential still exists between what they earn in Thailand versus what they would earn back home at Myanmar. In addition, many migrants believe that workers’ rights and conditions are no better in Burma than in Thailand. As best explained by an expert, “as long as workers [abroad] don’t fall into situations and severe debt bondage or trafficking, and even if they had bad employers, they can still usually save and send home more money than they ever could from working in [Burma].” From such statements, one can see why Burmese migrants illegally cross the border into Thailand. They truly believe that they are running from political instability and violence in Myanmar towards a land of economic opportunity in Thailand.
All in all, it seems that the Burmese migrants in Thailand face inhumane conditions as they are discriminated and exploited by Thai corporations, gangs, and even the police. Evidence can be shown of this through the Thai police treatment of the two migrants, working conditions, and the sexual assaults of Burmese women. Although NGOs and other human rights groups have tried to do what they can to help these migrants; one can’t help but wonder what more can be done to help these undocumented workers. Is the huge wage differential between working in Myanmar and Thailand worth such exploitation and lack of rights for Burmese citizens? And so, as this court case regarding the murder of the two British tourists unfolds under international spotlight, perhaps one may see a change in the Thai government’s policies towards undocumented workers. Such a decision is important not only in regards to migrant workers in Thailand, but for everyone across the globe as it opens up and addresses the larger question of universal human rights.
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