Tens of thousands of migrants flee as Thailand imposes new labor rules

July 3, 2017 10:30 pm
Tens of thousands of migrants have fled amid government efforts to revamp labor regulations as well as an unfolding crackdown on illegal workers.
An Immigration Bureau official said Monday that around 60,000 workers had left between June 23 and June 28, apparently after the adoption of new labor regulations by the military government.
Deputy Commissioner Pornchai Kuntee said the number had been increasing since the end of January and that most of the migrant workers were from Myanmar, a country where minority Muslims are suffering from violence at the hands of extremist Buddhists.
“They were of all nationalities, but the biggest group was from Myanmar… They are probably very scared,” said Kuntee.
Myanmar has also documented a significant increase in returns of nationals from Thailand. Aung Htay Win, a Labor Ministry official who is coordinating Myanmar’s response, said more than 16,000 people, including both legal and undocumented migrants had returned since June 29.

Laborers work at a construction site in downtown Bangkok, Thailand, on July 3, 2017. (Photo by Reuters)

Authorities in Cambodia also announced that up to 500 migrant workers had returned from Thailand since last week.
Many say the new regulations would hit Thailand’s booming fishery and construction industries. Estimates suggest that more than three million migrant workers live in Thailand.
Spurred by recurrent media reports about the exploitation of the workers, especially Muslims from Myanmar, by employers, the ruling junta began to regulate foreign workforce since taking power in a coup in 2014.
However, authorities have sought to ease concerns about the exodus. They said on Friday that the enforcement of parts of the new regulations could be postponed for at least 120 days. Under the decree imposed by the government, employers who hire unregistered foreign workers without permits would be fined for up to 800,000 baht ($23,557). 
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