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Myanmar asks Thailand to extend migrant documentation program

Sunday, 10 February 2013 13:38 | The Bangkok Post

Myanmar hopes Thailand will allow more time for documenting an estimated one million migrant workers if the nationality verification (NV) process can't be finished by the March 16 deadline.

Myanmar migrants work on construction projects in Phang Nga, Thailand. (Photo: IOM)
Myanmar migrants work on construction projects in Phang Nga, Thailand. (Photo: IOM)
[Myanmar] Deputy Labour Minister Myint Thein made the comment on Saturday during a visit to Bangkok to assess progress in the NV programme.

He also demanded that Thai authorities ensure the cost of getting passports and completing the NV process is not too high.

The government earlier set a deadline of Dec 14 for completing the process but the job proved too big, so the cabinet set a new deadline of March 16. Migrant workers not registered by then could face the threat of deportation.

This time, Myanmar has asked for visa-free privileges and passports for children (below 15 years) of the migrants. The deputy labour minister estimated around 200,000 children would be covered.

Ambassador Tin Win said 1.2 million migrants had already completed the NV process and received temporary passports but another one million remained, excluding the children.

"From my field trips to Chiang Mai and Chiang Rai and around the Thai border, many of the migrant workers have had to pay as much as 15,000 baht," said Mr Tin Win.

Myanmar collects 660 baht for documents while Thailand collects from 1,800 to 3,000 baht depending on the length of time before passport expiration, he said.

The ambassador suggested that if workers did not have to pay such high fees, more would have turned up and enrolled with employers for the NV registration.

The two senior officials also held talks with groups working on migrant issues at the Myanmar embassy on Saturday.
Mr Myint Thein said that if Thailand could open more NV centres besides the 11 that are now operating, the registration of all remaining migrants might be possible.

"Reaching out to the migrants, branching out with more NV facilities in the communities where migrants are living is a practical way to reach them on the ground," he said.

"What the Thai side has planned is for provincial employment officials to collect all information about the workers including the children and their dependents."

However, the Myanmar officials differ with their Thai counterparts in their understanding regarding the entitlement of children to visa-free travel and passports.

The deputy labour minister acknowledged that the Thai government was still reluctant to commit to a timeframe to include children in the passport process. As well, it's not clear whether the process would cover only the children of the remaining one million migrants, or also the children of those who completed the NV process last year.

He reasserted that Myanmar had developed a five-year migration plan to better address the challenges posed by the migrant population, working with international supporters and donors.

"The government has also allotted one million dollars for this migration plan," said Myint Thein.

The minister, whose constituency is in Rakhine State where hundreds of thousands of Rohingya live, refused to be drawn into a discussion about recent problems involving Rohingya migrants coming to Thailand.

He did say, however, that neither the Thai government nor UN agencies had been contacting Myanmar to discuss the Rohingya problem.

This article was first published in The Bangkok Post on February 9, 2013.


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