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Nationality deadline 'opens door to corruption'

Bangkok Post - 11 December 2012. The Dec 14 nationality verification (NV) deadline for migrant workers has offered fresh opportunities for corruption and illegal practices, a migrant rights advocate has warned.

The Dec 14 nationality verification (NV) deadline for migrant workers has offered fresh opportunities for corruption and illegal practices, a migrant rights advocate has warned.

The end to NV registration and passport issuances this coming Friday is not only affecting the hundreds of thousands of migrant workers seeking last-minute legalisation, but is also deterring a number of illegal migrants from becoming legitimate, said Sompong Srakaew, founder and director of the Samut Sakhon-based Labour Rights Promotion Network (LPN).

The current situation has reinvigorated a long-established culture of corrupt patronage as many employers feel they have no other choice but to pay under the table to help smooth over this important oversight by their workers so as not adversely affect their business, Mr Sompong said.

He described the run-up to the Friday deadline as volatile, with police round-ups of illegal migrants as well as officials illicitly taking advantage of a huge number of people yet to complete NV registration.

According to the Employment Department, out of a total 886,507 eligible migrants for NV registration (565,058 Myanmar, 222,430 Cambodians, 99,019 Lao), 530,156 migrants have been processed (473,380 Myanmar and 56,776 Cambodians, but no Lao).

The five NV centres in Thailand can only handle some 500 applications a day, so they cannot complete all verifications in time, Mr Sompong said.

Some of those who already prepared legal documents for the NV have been cheated by brokers demanding 20,000 baht for passports issued before the deadline. The normal cost for processing and issuing a passport is between 2,000 and 5,000 baht.

The Labour Ministry has said firms whose workers are unable to complete the NV in time can ask the authorities to include their desired quota for foreign workers into a future memorandum of understanding (MoU) which the Thai government will sign with neighbouring countries.

Mr Sompong said he understood the need for the Thai government to place all migrant workers under a legal framework to prepare for the Asean Economic Community in 2015 and to prevent accusations of using child labour, abuse and hiring illegal immigrants. However, the government should be aware of and resolve problems caused by past MoUs.There have many cases where Myanmar, Cambodian and Lao workers have protested against poor treatment, benefits and wages, he said.

Cambodians, for example, have to pay US$700 (21,450 baht) to brokers to work in Thailand under a government-to-government (G-to-G) labour recruitment policy, but they are not adequately informed about many additional expenses, such as accommodation. Some companies hold on to their passports.

Currently, there are less than 10,000 workers from the three countries working in Thailand under the G-to-G system.

Other migrant rights advocacy groups including the International Rescue Committee and Migrant Workers Right Network have also called on the Thai government to re-examine the NV system.

They say workers should be able to file NV applications with the authorities directly without having to go through designated brokers.

They have also called for the NV registration deadline to be extended, allowing those without legal documentation to get them and complete the NV.

Rigorously deporting illegal workers after the Dec 14 will only exacerbate human trafficking, the advocates said.


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