By Mahn Saimon
Thailand’s labour minister says the government is working to ensure undocumented migrant workers can take shelter at relief centres and safely travel back to their home countries as the flooding crisis worsens.
Phadoemchai Sasomsap was visiting a migrant shelter in Nakhon Pathom province, west of Bangkok, on Wednesday. His proclamation follows reports that Burmese migrants have been subject to arrest as they try to flee affected areas in central and southern Thailand.
Sein Htay, spokesperson of the Thailand-based Human Rights Development Foundation, who met with Phadoemchai at the shelter, said the labour ministry would contact migrants’ “respective embassies for a form confirming their national identity and to ensure they get safe passage back to Burma”.
“So basically this is to protect them from getting arrested during this time of distress,” he said.
Thailand is currently experiencing its worst flooding in 70 years, with the death toll now standing at more than 370. Prime Minister Yingluck Sinawatra said there is a 50 percent chance Bangkok city centre will be submerged as thousands attempt to flee the capital.
Sein Htay said the ministry had also directed migrant employers to return legal documents to their workers and requested that the immigration department provide an extension to those whose visas are about to expire.
Thai law dictates that migrant workers are forbidden from travelling outside of the areas they were registered in, but police have now been ordered not to arrest those who flee their permitted zones to escape flooding.
The Nakhon Pathom province shelter currently houses around 500 migrants, the majority fromBurma, although that figure is expected to rise as more escape Bangkok.
Water levels on the Chao Phraya River, which weaves through Bangkok, today reached a record high, swamping the Grand Palace. Shops are running low on supplies as people stock in lieu of weeks of chaos.
Up to three million Burmese migrants live in Thailand, making up 80 percent of the country’s total migrant population, which accounts for five percent of its total workforce and seven percent of the country’s GDP.
The majority work in low-skilled factory jobs and without the legal safety net enjoyed by Thai nationals, resulting in lengthy struggles to access compensation for injuries and lay-offs.