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January 2000 Volume 7 Number 1

Thailand and Myanmar


Thai police raided garment factories in the Mae Sot district near the Myanmar (Burma) border in mid-December and arrested 1,800 illegal migrants, many of whom had just returned to work after an earlier roundup. Thailand has repatriated about one million illegal immigrants from neighboring countries since it launched a campaign against illegal workers on November 3, 1999 to open jobs for Thailand's 1.4 million unemployed.

The Thai-Myanmar problems began in early October, when Myanmar dissidents took over the Myanmar embassy in Bangkok. Myanmar closed its borders with Thailand in protest—it reopened the border after eight weeks on November 24, 1999. The Myanmar government complains that Thailand shelters Myanmar dissidents in its border areas.

The deportations affected 100 garment and canning factories and 504,000 hectares or 1.3 million acres of fruit orchards. Many of the Myanmar workers soon returned. The foreign investors who operate many of the factories and farms along the Thai-Myanmar border would like to move their operations inside Myanmar, but cannot due to US sanctions that would prevent them from exporting products.

The Thai government allows about 106,000 unskilled workers from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar to work in 37 provinces in 18 labor-short sectors, including agriculture, fisheries, construction and mining. Their permits are valid until August 5, 2000. Thai employers of illegal foreign workers face up to three years in prison, fines of up to 60,000 baht ($1,561) or both, according to the 1979 Alien Worker Law.

Britain, the United States, Canada and Australia launched Operation Foursight in Bangkok and Kuala Lumpur, and concluded that smuggling rings operating in these cities offer packages to South Asians and Chinese seeking to enter the UK for about L7000 a person. Thai authorities say that they find at least one false passport a day, and about 150 foreigners with false passports and/or visas were intercepted by 16 British airline liaison officers at Bangkok airport. Most of these foreigners were being flown to the Middle East, and then to Uzbekistan and Kazakhstan before continuing to London.

Vietnam. Vietnam's Ministry Of Labor, War Invalids and Social Affairs, or MOLISA, announced in December 1999 that the issuance of work permits for foreigners as was being simplified to promote foreign investment—all licensed business organizations in Vietnam are now able to hire foreigners, work permits are to be issued within 15 days, and fees of $7 to $14 have been eliminated. Foreigners will be allowed to work for up to six years in Vietnam, double the old three-year limit.


Ian Burrell, "Asian Trade In Illegal Immigration Is Uncovered," The Independent (London), December 27, 1999.
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