Hundreds of hmong face deportation

Hundreds of hmong face deportation

By Jim Pollard
The Nation
Published on June 23, 2008
Protest march to capital blocked by riot police;leaders said repatriated
Leaders of the dramatic protest march out of the Huay Nam Khao refugee camp in Phetchabun have been forcibly returned to Laos, along with a group of Hmong wanted by Lao authorities, sources in the North said yesterday.
A further 800 refugees are being deported to Laos – some allegedly against their will, but many having accepted money from the Thai government to return to their homeland after languishing for several years while United Nations refugee officials were denied access to the camp.
Another 500 to 600 people have been locked up in provincial jails after the Army forcibly dispersed the huge protest on Saturday, while reporters were kept well away from the scene of the stand-off.
An estimated 5,000 people marched out of the strife-torn Huay Nam Khao camp early on Friday saying they were walking to Bangkok to draw international attention to their plight.
The Hmong were blocked by riot police and troops on a road about five kilometres from Khet Noi, the next village, and forced to spend a night in the open.
The Phetchabun governor arrived on Saturday to negotiate with the refugees, who have endured a series of crises in recent weeks, including a fire that burnt down half the homes in their camp. The blaze is believed to have been deliberately lit, possibly at the instigation of Hmong groups in the US, to try to draw international attention to the refugees’ plight.
The US government introduced legislation in Congress recently to try to prevent the Hmong from being forcibly returned. US officials have been monitoring developments in the camp closely and the State Department is said to be considering a “large intake” of Hmong refugees, although no decision appears to have been reached at this stage.
About 8,000 Lao Hmong have been languishing in the camp for several years claiming they have fled harassment and persecution in their communist homeland, largely because of ties to the CIA-backed force that fought the communists in the 1960s and 70s. However, the Thai and Lao governments say the Hmong in Phetchabun are simply economic migrants duped by human traffickers who led them to believe they could be resettled in the West.
Leaders of the protest march and others wanted by the Lao authorities – a total of about eight families – were reportedly trucked to Nong Khai at 3am yesterday and deported to Laos.
Leader Lee Xue, who has had run-ins with Thai authorities in recent weeks, plus a man who led a BBC reporter to meet a group of “jungle Hmong” several years ago, were believed to be among those returned.
Another 832 people were packed into buses at about 11am and driven to Nong Khai for deportation.
The Hmong have allegedly been paid Bt15,000 per family to return, but some of those bussed to the border were crying, shouting and upset because they had had second thoughts about returning, sources in the North said.
Aid workers at Huay Nam Khao said about 1,600 people, or a third of those who marched out of the camp on Friday, had failed to return.
Videos of the protest march show the refugees holding banners appealing for the United Nations to intervene and stop forced repatriation.


Visa fees lowered for Burmese workers

Bangkok Post News
Friday August 22, 2008

BURMESE / Labour Minister Uraiwan Thienthong and her Burmese counterpart U Maung Myint yesterday signed a memorandum of understanding to reduce visa fees levied on legal Burmese labourers from 2,000 baht to 500 baht per head.

The agreement applies only to the first batch of 10,000 workers who have provided proof of their Burmese nationality, conducted at the Burmese border towns of Kawthaung, Tachilek and Myawaddy

MEDICAL SERVICES – Aliens cost B155m a year

Bangkok Post Wednesday July 09, 2008


Aliens cost B155m a year

The government is now shouldering about 155 million baht in medical expenses for alien workers per year, permanent secretary for public health Prat Boonyawongvirote said yesterday. Speaking at a three-day seminar on public health services for alien workers which began yesterday, Dr Prat said the money is spent mostly on the treatment of those with diarrhoea, tuberculosis, Aids, haemorrhagic fever and malaria.
The prevalence of those diseases is high along the country’s border areas.
Dr Prat quoted statistics from the Labour Ministry since March that there were a total of 621,437 registered alien workers in Thailand. The ministry estimated there were about 700,000 unregistered alien workers in the country.
Most unregistered workers are from Burma, Laos and Cambodia.
Dr Prat said the Labour Ministry also found that the presence of alien workers generates economic and social impacts as well as safety concerns in provinces they live in.
Sangay Thinley, a representative of the World Health Organisation, said the WHO projected that in 2005 around 191 million workers had migrated transnationally around the world.
Half of them were women, and up to 40 million of them crossed national borders without permission from relevant authorities.
This mass migration has led to social problems among migrant workers ranging from alcohol and drug abuse to violence and the spread of infectious diseases. Diseases which often affect migrant workers are Aids, tuberculosis and diarrhoea, said Dr Thinley.

HUMAN TRAFFICKING Korean businessman – lured Padaung

Thursday July 10, 2008 Bangkok Post


Korean businessman ‘lured Padaung’


MAE HONG SON : A Korean businessman and a provincial official who was reportedly bribed with three million baht are allegedly involved in the disappearance of 11 long-necked Padaung hilltribe people from the northern province of Mae Hong Son.
A source close to the investigation panel appointed by Mae Hong Son governor Thongchai Wongrieanthong said it found that a Korean investor who had opened a new tourist attraction in the South hired men in uniform to smuggle the Karenni people away from their villages on board an official vehicle.
The Padaung tribe are a group of the Karenni people. Traditionally, Padaung women wear multiple brass rings which elongate the neck.
Deputy governor Wanchai Suthiworachai said the businessman and his associates would be charged with human trafficking if there is sound evidence against them.
Authorities would improve assistance packages for the tribespeople, he said.
Karenni leader Laodu, 39, brushed aside Friday’s alleged abduction, saying poverty might have driven the 11 missing people to work elsewhere.
He said: ”Each family got only 1,500 baht a month from a supervisor. They might have run away with an investor for a better life.”
The missing Padaung disappeared from Huay Sua Tao and Huay Pukaeng villages, key tourist attractions, in Muang district of Mae Hong Son last Friday.
Seven are adults and four are children.
Tourism operators have filed a petition to police and the provincial governor, demanding they find the missing people.
Karenni people from the Padaung tribe are refugees who fled heavy fighting in Burma and are required to stay at designated locations.

Lacking in real outrage – Sanitsuda Ekachai

Lacking in real outrage – Sanitsuda Ekachai

Bangkok Post Thursday July 17, 2008

Lacking in real outrage

As a political showdown between the pro- and anti-Thaksin camps approaches, one thing is clear. Whoever wins, it will not make much difference to people on the ground. Whichever government comes along, its economic and development agenda will be the same. The politicians are just fighting over control so they get to pocket the mega profits themselves.
We can be certain that they will similarly give lip service to climate change concerns, pushing for mega dams and industrial projects for short-term gains, ignoring long-term losses from the destruction of the environment and people’s lives.
They will similarly push for deeper involvement in economic globalisation and the expansion of chemical agriculture and large-scale plantations at the cost of deforestation, loss of bio-diversity and small farmers’ livelihood.
They will similarly play the same nationalist card to legitimise their agendas. And when they play the tunes of royal nationalism, they will likewise ignore the monarch’s advice on moderation, contentment, self-reliance and the need to bring morality back to public policies.
Love or hate Thaksin, they will equally ignore political decentralisation to please the bureaucracy and to maintain a tight grip on the use of natural resources.
This is why community rights, enshrined in both the 1997 and 2007 charters, to empower the locals to protect their natural environment, remains in letter only. Add bureaucratic resistance to decentralisation with a strong aversion to cultural pluralism, it is also why we cannot hope for peace in the deep South anytime soon.
The rhetoric from the anti-Thaksin camp may want us to believe that all ills of the country will be gone if the Thaksin elements are totally uprooted. Only blind supporters will buy that. You don’t need deep knowledge to know that things won’t change when only the faces in the cabinet change, not what is in their heads.
Ask the villagers at Tambon Sa-iab in Phrae. After 25 years of fighting to protect their forests, they still cannot let their guard down against the Kaeng Sua Ten dam project.
Ask the villagers at Ban Krut, Bo Nok and Bang Saphan in Prachuap Khiri Khan. Then, as now, they are still risking their lives fighting against a giant steel melting plant, knowing that no government can protect their future.
Ask the ethnic Karen forest dwellers at Ban Klity Lang in Kanchanaburi. A lead mine has killed their creek and their kin. Yet the authorities refuse to clean up the creek and give the villagers compensation as well as proper treatment for lead poisoning, despite several court rulings.
Rubbing salt into the wound, the forestry officials have relentlessly tried to evict the Klity villagers. Last week, 39-year-old Pracha Aroonsisuwan was arrested for farming on his own land.
The authorities refused to listen when he explained that the land was actually his family’s old rice field left to regenerate itself for five years as part of the indigenous Karen’s rotation farming system.
The fact that the Klity forest will soon be part of a new national park is proof of the Klity Karen’s forest conservation culture. Yet, they have been turned into forest encroachers by the law, which prohibits all human activity in forests.
Countless forest dwellers and hilltribe people have been sent to jail through this forestry law _ another proof of how justice is killed in our legal system.
Meanwhile, the forest authorities routinely allow lead mines and the tourism industry to operate in pristine forests.
While Pracha will be sent to jail, the authorities have just allowed Kemco to continue its lead mining operations despite local protests against its discharge of toxic waste which has turned a huge plot of Kanchanaburi forest into a sea of lead residue.
Will a change of command at the top help ease the plight on the ground? There is hope if there is public moral outrage against environmental crimes and if oppression of the weak is seen as a grave sin. Too bad we don’t see it now.
Sanitsuda Ekachai is Assistant Editor (Outlook), Bangkok Post.

Bangkok Post  Friday June 20, 2008


Thailand ranked as one of worst places


Thailand ranks as one of the world’s worst places for refugees due to its poor treatment of Burmese and Hmong asylum seekers and of the long-necked Padaung tribe, according to a survey released on World Refugee Day yesterday. Other countries listed among the worst places for refugees are Bangladesh, China, several European Union (EU) countries, India, Iraq, Kenya, Malaysia, Russia, and Sudan, according to a 18-page report conducted by the US Committee for Refugees and Immigrants (USCRI).
The ranking is based on a country’s treatment of refugees such as giving them the right to earn a livelihood, physical protection, access to the courts, and freedom of movement and residence in the country surveyed.
USCRI country director Dares Chusri said Thailand’s ranking fell from the previous survey, particularly in terms of refugee freedom and residence, due to the forced deportation of Burmese and Hmong asylum seekers and the Padaung tribe, who fled their homes in Burma to escape armed hostilities between government troops and ethnic rebels more than 15 years ago.
Thai authorities moved the long-necked Karen people from their present village in Mae Hong Son’s Muang district to a new holding centre in the same district last year.
Around 7,500 ethnic Hmong living at Ban Huay Nam Khao camp in Phetchabun province have been forced to relocate to a barbed-wire camp by the authorities, who have also started to repatriate many of them back to Laos.
The USCRI surveyed a total of 60 countries which together account for 90% of the refugees in the world.
Unlike the UN refugee agency (UNHCR), which has recognised an improvement in Thailand’s refugee policy, the USCRI viewed that refugee rights were still not well-protected here.
Last year, up to 22,000 refugees, mostly Karen, left Thailand to resettle in third countries.
The UNHCR has also recognised Thailand’s efforts to treat the refugees better with the issuance of identity cards and the inclusion of refugees in the national HIV/Aids prevention and treatment programme.
The UNHCR, however, shared NGO concerns that no major progress has been made in development of self-reliance, and access to the labour market and opportunities for higher education, which are still limited.
There are around 145,700 refugees camped along the Thai-Burmese border and some 50,000 outside the camps plus many hundred thousands of asylum seekers in the country.

Serving as a bridge for migrant workers

Serving as a bridge for migrant workers

Bangkok Post Saturday July 05, 2008


Serving as a bridge for migrant workers


Cha, 27, is employed at Bangjak hospital as a community health worker.

His daily task involves translating for migrant workers who cannot speak Thai, to ensure they get the service and help they need.

Cha migrated to Thailand 13 years ago from Burma, where the political and economic situation continues to force many to leave their country for Thailand in search of better opportunities.

After many years of working in metal shops and a steel factory, Cha became a community health worker with Bangjak hospital on July 1, after completing an intensive training course in basic healthcare.

As a community health worker, Cha assists migrant workers at the hospital and learns about their health problems.

Outside the workplace, Cha visits migrant communities in the neighbourhood and provides important health education.

“Many migrant workers don’t understand Thai. I’m happy to help them communicate,” says Cha.

“I also provide information on disease prevention and reproductive healthcare to everyone.”

With migration now a permanent fixture of globalised economies, including Thailand which is both a sending and receiving country, we cannot shy away from the responsibility of healthcare for all.

Thailand is a multi-ethnic nation, including approximately 1.3 million migrant workers (621,437 documented, and about 700,000 undocumented) who contribute to its economy and development.

These migrant workers are nationals of neighbouring countries who, like Cha, migrated to Thailand for a variety of compelling reasons.

When migrants stay healthy and have equal access to healthcare services, everyone in the country benefits. Health is an integral part of human security.

The Ministry of Public Health, with the goal of health security for Thai society and universal healthcare, has adopted a “migrant health strategy” aimed at addressing migrant healthcare barriers, such as language.

The five components of the migrant health strategy are:

1. Organise health services to be easily accessible, incorporate disease prevention and strengthen human resources to provide services;

2. Make available health insurance to minimise the risks associated with lack of access and some of the insurance fees can support disease prevention efforts;

3. Encourage the participation of migrants and communities in maintaining their health and well-being;

4. Develop information systems of the migrant population since accurate data will assist in the planning of healthcare and proactive disease prevention strategies;

5. Establish primary health centres for migrants appropriate to the local context. Such centres can function as community-based links in the provision of services and disease prevention.

In the course of implementing the migrant health strategy, the language barrier figured prominently as the most significant obstacle to achieving universal healthcare.

Migrants are often unable to clearly explain symptoms or communicate with doctors and nurses, thereby making accurate diagnosis difficult. A lack of health information in languages they understand can prove to have detrimental health consequences. These are some of the most common scenarios befalling migrant workers in Thailand.

In such situations, community health workers – like Cha at Bangjak hospital – are the most valuable resources.

The Health Ministry and international agencies working with migrants have trained community health workers to serve as a bridge between health providers and migrant communities to address language and other barriers.

Community health workers are more than mere translators. These men and women also work in the communities to convey life-saving information on how to take care of one’s health and prevent communicable diseases.

Without community health workers, prevention and treatment of disease may simply not reach those most in need.

Cha explains how he feels about his role as community health worker at Bangjak hospital. “Sometimes I am called to the ER unit if only to help push a wheelchair because they are short of staff. I am always glad to offer a hand.”

The authors are with the Migrant Working Group, a coalition of more than 20 NGOs and UN agencies working together to protect the rights and improve the quality of life for migrant workers in Thailand.