Migrant Workers in Chiang Mai Face Increased Police Scrutiny

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Shan migrant workers say they are getting arrested if they are witnessed by the authorities doing ‘skilled labor.’

Photo by Thairath/

Thai police are increasing checks on migrant workers in Chiang Mai, looking for those who are undocumented or are doing jobs barred to them by Thai law, members of the Shan community said.

Migrant workers said that checks on their work places have been ongoing since mid-June, and that people are placed under arrest if they are working in a location different from what is stated on their work permits. Workers have also been arrested for carrying out tasks that are beyond those allowed for migrant workers by Thai law—those classified as “skilled labor.”

“The Thai police came into our construction site. We have work permits. Nobody was afraid,” Sai San who works in Chiang Mai’s Hang Dong district. “But the Thai police arrested some workers who were using a tape measure as well laying bricks. Thai police said that these are skilled labor jobs. Migrant workers cannot work in ‘skilled labor.’ For us, it’s really difficult to work here.”

According to labor activists, the increased checks coincided with the deaths of two Thai students who died in a motorbike accident after fighting with a group of migrant workers.

“The authorities only allow migrant workers to work as loaders and unloaders [at construction sites], as housemaids or as cleaners. The authorities only allow migrant workers to work in unskilled labor jobs,” a labor activist told SHAN.

Migrant workers said that they want leaders from both Thailand and Burma to discuss and negotiate the labor issues at hand so that migrants are not deported to Burma.

“We want to let the Burmese government know about this problem that Burmese migrant workers are currently facing,” worker Sai Piang told SHAN, adding that the jobs migrant workers are allowed to do should be more clearly defined by the Thai authorities.

Typically, Thai police deport migrant workers to their native country within seven days of arrest. According to the Thai authorities, Thai police have deported more than 1,000 Burmese migrant workers to Burma in the first six months of 2019.

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