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February 2000, Volume 7, Number 2

Thailand: Burmese

Thailand in Fall 1999 mounted an effort to remove about 30,000 illegal Burmese workers from factories in the border area in order to open jobs for unemployed Thais. However, Suchart Visuwan, president of the Tak Industrial Council, said in January 2000 that the plan to substitute Thai workers failed-- only 6,000 Thais replaced the 20,000 departed Burmese. Local observers say that one problem is wages: the Burmese were willing to work for about $1 a day, but Thais are not.

As a result, 30 factories have closed since August 1999. Panithi Tangpati, president of the Tak Chamber of Commerce, said that vegetables, roses and other products were also left to rot because there were no laborers to work the fields.

There were an estimated 30,000 Burmese workers in the Tak area before the repatriation program began. Thai employers want a guest worker program that would permit Burmese to enter Thailand each day to work and then return home at night. Thai Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai said in January that "If Thai employers need to use foreigners, they must come legally so the government can control them."

Krittaya Achvanichkul of Mahidol University's Institute for Population and Social Research said it was contradictory for the government to encourage the establishment of new industries in border provinces while at the same time announcing controls on the number of immigrant workers.

Thailand's Deputy Prime Minister in January 2000 said that a lack of co-ordination between officials and corruption at the local level led to failure in implementing a policy to reduce illegal migration. He said that the presence of migrants was straining Thailand's health care system—some 165 million baht was spent on migrant health care in 1999. The Ministry of Public Health reported 15,252 foreign patients were treated in hospitals in 10 Thai-Burmese border provinces in 1999, of which 9,486 were Burmese migrant workers.

On January 30, 2000, Bangkok police arrested 1,500 illegal migrants before a major United Nations conference on trade and development.

Aphaluck Bhatiasevi, "Illegal alien woes blamed on officials," Bangkok Post, January 27, 2000. Supamart Kasem, "Plan to train Thai workers backfires," Bangkok Post, January 8, 2000.