Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit to Thailand: What happens next?
Thai officials and migrant workers fired after visit
The Myanmar Times reported that a number of Thai officials and migrant workers were fired after Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit. There was no official reason given but rights groups speculated that the firings were due to questionable arrangements that excluded migrant workers from the event in Mahachai on June 23. Among those fired included the local labour department head, a police officer and the district administrator.
Repatriation of Myanmar nationals
The Thai government is planning to repatriate around 200 Myanmar refugees who have opted to return to their homeland. Governments of both countries have agreed to cooperate in the repatriation process; verifying the citizenship and identification of displaced and undocumented Myanmar citizens. However, the physical process of returning will only begin once the Myanmar government has restored native land and villages to the displaced. According to the UN refugee agency, over 100,000 refugees from Myanmar currently live in Thailand.
As part of measures against illegal work and human trafficking, 3 centres for migrants are expected to open in Tak (Thai-Myanmar border), Nong Khai (Thai-Laos) and Sak Kaeo (Thai-Cambodia border). The aim will be to help undocumented migrants become legal workers in accordance with Thai labour laws. Myanmar nationals represent the largest community of migrant workers, followed by Cambodia and Laos. The Prayut Chan-o-cha government has toughened up the law on illegal laborers since 2014, in its efforts to curb human trafficking, especially in the fishing industry.
Furthermore, measures have been taken to reinforce the existing laws prohibiting certain occupations and professions for foreign workers, such as labour work, agriculture, bricklaying, carpentry or other construction work, driving motor vehicles, etc. Migrants are required to have a work permit or visa to be able to work in Thailand.
An inspiring leader in the region
“Mother Suu’s” message to Myanmar migrants also had an unlikely impact on Cambodian migrants in Thailand. They were inspired by Aung San Suu Kyi and her government’s efforts to repatriate Myanmar nationals and fare for their well-being abroad.
“Hundreds of thousands of Cambodians have migrated abroad, and many have faced serious consequences. Some of them, especially in Thailand, are abused or exploited, and that’s why Aung San Suu Ky’is language touched the hearts of Cambodians,” said Preap Kol, executive director of Transparency International Cambodia.
Next stop for Aung San Suu Kyi will be Malaysia in August to discuss bilateral agreements on migrant worker rights. This will be her third trip to this country, but first as the de facto head of the new NLD government. An estimated 500,000 to 700,000 Myanmar migrants work in Malaysia.
Hopes and expectations for the future
Aung San Suu Kyi’s visit has brought hope to all migrant workers in Thailand. They fled conflict, poverty and lack of job opportunities under the military government, but may now envisage a brighter future in the Republic of the Union of Myanmar.
For Aung San Suu Kyi and the Myanmar government there is still much work to do to improve the country’s economic situation and ease tensions between the different ethnic groups in order for migrants to return home. Multiple challenges must be faced in terms of governance, trade and peace-building for it to be considered a democratic and developed country.
The Rohingya plight must be addressed, as religious intolerance has mushroomed across the country in recent years leaving scores of Rohingya dead and forcing tens of thousands to seek refuge in displacement camps. The recent torching and destruction of a mosque in Kachin province in northern Myanmar by an armed mob has raised concerns about an escalation of violence against the Muslim minority. Noble peace prize winner Suu Kyi has further dismayed rights groups by not taking action and by asking the international community to avoid using the term “Rohingya” in her presence. Indeed, the authorities fear fuelling further unrest in a majority Buddhist state.
The question that remains is whether Aung San Suu Kyi will live up to her image of a beacon of hope for her people and the world.