MORE THAN 150 illegal immigrants were arrested in raids in Bangkok last month amid a crackdown by the Thai authorities on undocumented migrant workers, Reuters reported.
The crackdown comes amid indications of rising anti-foreign sentiment in Thailand, said the report, that quoted International Labour Organization figures showing that most of the estimated three million migrant workers in the kingdom were from Myanmar.
Thai Labour department figures show that 153 foreigners, many from Myanmar, were detained in raids on fresh markets, restaurants, supermarkets and shopping malls in and around Bangkok between September 1 and 26, the report said.
Another raid on a fresh produce market in Bangkok on September 28 led by Labour department officials and involving police and troops resulted in the arrest of 14 people, most of whom were from Myanmar.
“We have received many complaints about illegal immigrants working in markets including Vietnamese and even South Asians who were stealing jobs from Thais,” Thai immigration police chief Police Lieutenant-General Nathorn Phrosunthorn told Reuters on September 29.
“They should be doing the jobs that Thais don’t want to do like work as house cleaners,” he said.
Nathorn denied that the crackdown was being driven by an anti-immigrant policy.
“We still need migrant labour. We just want to keep some order,” he said.
Rights groups say the anti-foreigner sentiment mirrors the situation in some other countries and follows a downtown in the Thai economy since the military seized power in a coup in 2014.
“There seems to be a surge of national sentiment in Thai immigration policy claiming migrants from Vietnam, for example, are taking jobs that are reserved for Thai nationals,” Mr Sunai Phasuk from Human Rights Watch told Reuters.
“We haven’t seen this kind of rise in anti-immigrant sentiment for decades. This has a lot to do economic concerns.”
Mr Sanit Choklamlert, a shopkeeper in Bangkok’s Silom Road business district, said migrants were seen as competitors for some Thais.
“There are too many Myanmar people here now and they’re fighting for the same jobs as us,” he told Reuters. “We need to send some back.”
In another development, the Minister for Labour, Immigration and Population, U Thein Swe, told the Pyithu Hluttaw on September 28 that the ministry was striving to protect the basic rights of workers at home and abroad, the state-controlled Global New Light of Myanmar reported.
His comment came during debate on a resolution that called on the government to protect migrant workers from abuse and exploitation.
U Htwe Htwe Thein, director of the Confederation of Trade Unions Myanmar, told a workshop in Yangon the same day that there should be a specific law to protect migrant workers, the daily reported.
He said migrant workers continued to be exploited by agents, despite memoranda of understanding signed by the government and overseas employment agencies.