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Lack of jobs drives migrant workers back to Thailand

The Nation - 1 April 2015 - Many Myanmar migrant workers are preparing to go back to Thailand before the water festival, Thingyan, as there are no jobs for them in Myanmar and their living expenses are high at home.

Returning to Thailand is a way to support their families, despite the neighbouring country's effort to block the entry of illegal workers. According to the Myanmar Police Force under the Ministry of Home Affairs, Thailand has deported over 50,000 illegal Myanmar migrant workers in five-year period between 2011 and 2015.

"The cycle is repeated as the workers entered Thailand illegally and Thai authorities arrested and sent them home," said an unnamed official from the Special Branch office under the Myanmar Police Force.

At present, there are many illegal Myanmar migrant workers who don't have legal documents. Most of them preferred to work in fishery and agricultural sectors located in the remote areas of southern Thailand near the Thai-Malaysian border.

The New Year Water Festival starts April 14 in Myanmar. A similar Thai water festival, called Songkran, begins April 13 with many businesses shutting down across the country.

"We don't want to go back to Thailand," said Ko Ko Naing from Mudon in Mon State in southeast Myanmar. "We have not participated in Thingyan for three or four years now. I came back to Myanmar to play water with my friends. But I have no money left now and no job is available, so I have to go back to Thailand earlier than expected."

Many migrant workers returned to Myanmar in the third week of March for the Tabaung Festival, which marks the end of the traditional calendar, and some say they are broke because of the donations they made and merrymaking they enjoyed, forcing them to return to Thailand.

"When I came home, I had a plan to stay for Thingyan - my parents are old," said Ko Naing from Yoe Goe village in Mawlamyaing Township. "But my savings ran out before the festival. I do not enjoy being penniless. I feel sad because I cannot stay here for the festival as it (only) comes once a year."

Thousands of Myanmar migrant workers wait daily for visa stamping at the Mae Sot-Myawady Friendship Bridge before entering Thailand. They have to pay a registration fee of Bt20.

According to the workers, if they don't want to wait in long lines, they can pay Bt120-Bt150 to brokers who can get the necessary paperwork completed faster.

"There are official and unofficial fees for registration," said one migrant worker who did not want to be identified. "I prefer the unofficial fee as I cannot wait for long."

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