by Surasak Tumcharoen
BANGKOK, June 28 (Xinhua) -- Thai authorities should treat migrant workers humanely and with compassion even as they pursue their relentless campaign against human traffickers in the country, a human rights activist has said here.
Sunai Pasuk, the Bangkok-based coordinator for the Human Rights Watch, has called on the Thai authorities to treat migrant workers from any foreign country as victims of human trafficking syndicates and therefore should be given assistance instead of being subjected to indignities.
Instead of being arrested for illegal entry charges, those migrants should be given humanitarian aid and eventually legalized as foreign workers, he said.
There is an estimated 2.5 million migrants employed for varied jobs in Thailand ranging from unskilled construction workers, factory employees, fishermen, restaurant waitresses and house servants.
These include some 430,000 Cambodians, about half of whom had recently scrambled out across the Thai-Cambodian border in the wake of unconfirmed rumors of a sweeping crackdown on illegal aliens.
However many have begun to return to their former jobs after the military government assured them of their safety.
"Instead of arresting the migrant workers, the authorities should help them for humanitarian reasons and see to it that they will be no longer abused.
Measures should be seriously taken to combat human trafficking in which some abusive employers and corrupt officials may have been involved," he said.
The National Council for Peace and Order, the official name of the military junta that staged the May 22 coup to depose a civilian government, said to have developed close and cordial relationship with Phnom Penh, had dismissed such hearsay about crackdown on illegal foreign workers and recommended that the Cambodian authorities persuade their migrant workers to return to their jobs in Thailand.
According to the Human Rights Watch coordinator, the Thai authorities should also treat Rohingya migrants who may have fled sectarian unrests in Myanmar as asylum seekers, instead of being considered as aliens to be arrested for illegal entry charges and finally sent off to a third country.
The Rohingya migrants were known to have paid large sums of money to human traffickers in exchange for their being smuggled into Thai territory but only to end up working in Thai sweatshops.
Sunai suggested that the authorities plug up legal loopholes to prevent the unscrupulous human traffickers from taking advantage of the hapless migrant workers, including Rohingya migrants.
"The authorities have largely failed to clamp down on those law- evading traffickers and colluding officials many of whom were said to have remained at large and even strived to make undue gains by ways of labor abuses," he said.
He disclosed that Thailand used to be second in the United States government's list of countries engaged in trafficking in persons for the past years.
Thailand has been relegated to the third tier due to reported failure to effectually combat human trafficking, which in some cases had culminated in the "slavery" of migrant workers as alleged by U.S.Secretary of State John Kerry.
However, given the stringent measures taken by the ruling military, the country's human trafficking report might be moved up from the lowest tier, Sunai commented. In order to stop the illegal activities of human traffickers, top Thai ruler Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha, who currently heads the military council, has assured the country that the authorities will legalize and regulate the employment of foreign workers.
The army chief called on the employers at varied workplaces throughout the country to cooperate by having all their foreign employees documented and kept under control of the law so that they will no longer fall prey to human traffickers.
On orders of the ruling military, a few high-ranking labor officials have been removed from their posts, including the heads of the Department of Employment and the Office of Foreign Workers Administration.