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Suu Kyi presses for migrants' rights in Thailand

Tampa Bay Times - June 1, 2012. "Long a fighter against oppression inside Myanmar, Aung San Suu Kyi is using her first foreign trip in 24 years to fight for her countrymen suffering abroad — millions of economic migrants unable to work at home but vulnerable to exploitation elsewhere."

"On Thursday, she pressed her concerns about the millions of Myanmar migrants living in Thailand in a meeting with the country's deputy prime minister. And for a second straight day, she addressed throngs of migrants in Mahachai, a town southwest of Bangkok that hosts more migrants from Myanmar than any other place in Thailand.

"She can't force the Thai government to do anything, but she can speak on our behalf better than anybody else," said Win Aung, 31, who lost his hand in an accident at a Thai-run shoe factory and is still fighting to obtain employer compensation for it a year-and-a-half later. "She's the best hope we have for things to change."

Suu Kyi called on Deputy Prime Minister Chalerm Yubumrung to ensure that Thai businessmen do not exploit her countrymen. She recounted familiar stories of abuse, saying employers confiscate passports and other documents illegally to prevent workers from quitting for better-paid jobs. She also complained of the inadequate treatment they receive when injured at work.

Chalerm acknowledged problems exist, but said "those who are registered to work legally will receive good welfare, like the universal health care scheme, and be taken care of."

Andy Hall, a staunch migrant advocate and researcher at the Institute for Population and Social Research at Thailand's Mahidol University, said far more needed to be done to stop exploitation. "Policy is one thing, but reality is different," he said.

Speaking in Mahachai, Suu Kyi told thousands of cheering migrants she officially came to attend the World Economic Forum for East Asia.

"But the truth is, the most important thing I am doing here is studying the situation of migrants and refugees, to find out how I can help," she said, to resounding applause."



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