Myanmar - ReliefWeb News
Guinea, Liberia, Sierra Leone: The Ebola outbreak that started at the beginning of 2014 has resurged, with more than 635 cases recorded, including 399 deaths, as of 23 June. WHO is urging a wider, inter-country response to the subregional crisis.
South Sudan: SAM was found to be at 6% from a screening of 500,000 children. In Bentiu UN base, the under-five mortality rate has passed the emergency threshold. 2,300 cases of cholera have been reported.
Iraq: Nearly 2,000 people, including 1,393 civilians were killed in June, the highest figure since May 2007. 1.5 million people are in need of humanitarian assistance, a 300% increase from February 2014. ISIL declared a Sunni caliphate spreading from Aleppo in Syria to Diyala in Iraq.
Pakistan: Some 468,000 newly displaced by military operations in North Waziristan are reportedly living in poor conditions. Concern for the spread of polio is high, as the region is a hotspot for the disease. Attacks in North Waziristan continue.
Updated: 01/07/2014. Next update: 08/07/2014
UNESCO and International Media Support (IMS), together with the National Management College (NMC) in Yangon, have embarked on a comprehensive assessment of the media landscape in Myanmar, based on UNESCO´s Media Development Indicators (MDIs). The ultimate objective is to present key findings and recommendations that will guide policy-makers and stakeholders in their decisions on the development of media in the country.
The exercise started with a training workshop on media statistics in Nay Pyi Taw, led by UNESCO´s Institute of Statistics (UIS) and targeting the staff of the Ministry of information, the Ministry of Communications and Information Technology as well as private media organisations (22-23 May). It was then followed by a two-day Media Development Indicator-based (MDI) training workshop in Yangon from 28 to 29 May 2014 addressed to the project’s core research team from the Journalism Department at NMC, IMS and UNESCO representatives. The workshop was conducted by media development expert, Steve Buckley, and it provided the 13 participants with an introduction to the extensive list of media indicators. The participants were also trained on the various tools and resources available to them.
Myanmar has seen substantial media reforms in recent years, and many more are in the way, especially in areas such as media legislation, media ownership systems and media diversity.
Establishing a Consultative Committee to guide the process
To ensure national ownership of the assessment and its recommendations, a Consultative Committee consisting of representatives from across the media sector was formed to advise the team on the research process and recommendations.
The Committee met for the first time on 30 May 2014 in Yangon. The meeting was attended by 11 members representing nine organizations spanning the government, civil society, media and educational sectors.
During the meeting, the Committee provided the research team with valuable insight on the implementation of the MDI indicators and gave its suggestions on maximizing the impact of the report’s recommendations.
Committee members urged the researchers “not to simply take the findings they gathered at face-value, but to delve deeper to ensure that their findings reflected the reality on the ground”. They also called for the research to be “broad-based and inclusive, in order to ensure that the findings would be sufficiently representative and allow for meaningful and relevant recommendations to be made”.
With the knowledge gained from the MDI training workshop, the research team will now formulate a comprehensive research plan – in close liaison with the Consultative Committee – and start the groundwork needed. Preliminary findings will be reported to the Third Media Development Conference to be organized in Yangon in September this year. The final report is expected to be ready in the first quarter of 2015.
Kyunsu, 29 June— Taninthayi Region Minister for Planning and Economic U Thein Lwin and Region Minister for Forestry and Mines U Tin Soe presented K1 million to the fund to townselders at Panzin Basic Education High School in Kyunsu Township of Taninthayi Region recently. The fund will be spent on construction of the bridge in Panzin Village of the township.
At the Basic Education Primary School in Wahaw Village, the two region ministers also provided K1.2 million and 20 corrugated iron sheets each to 16 families from the houses that collapsed in the recent storm and K500,000 and 20 CI sheets each to 14 other storm victims.
They also gave cash assistance for reconstruction of housings, schools and other buildings in storm-hit villages in the township.
They also provided one dozen of copy books and one set of school textbook to 41 students.—Yan Naing Tun (Kyunsu IPRD)
By FELIZ SOLOMON
As Burma moves to resolve six decades of civil conflict, reports continue of sexual violence in ethnic territories. Women’s support and advocacy groups continue to accuse the Burmese military of using rape as a tool of war; more than 70 cases — about half of them fatal — have been reported since 2011.
In early June, the Burmese government took one step towards ending military rape, when they signed the United Nations’ Declaration of Commitment to End Sexual Violence in Conflict. But not everyone believes that the measure was sincere. Critics say that the government has not advanced a plan to train the military in gender sensitivity, enforce laws about sex crimes, or provide support for survivors. Some have even called the move “a PR exercise”.
A delegation of women and one government official from Burma attended an international summit on sex crimes in conflict earlier this month, hosted by the British government. Upon her return to Rangoon, DVB spoke with Susanna Hla Hla Soe, director of the Karen Women’s Empowerment Group, about the promises made and the root causes of sexual violence.
Q: Now that the Burmese government has signed the UN’s Declaration on Sexual Violence in Conflict, what plans have they put forth to implement it?
A: The government has endorsed the agreement. When we spoke with Burma’s deputy minister of foreign affairs at the summit, he said that he will come back [to Burma] and meet with the government to talk about implementation. He said that success will require collaboration with civil society organisations; that is crucial.
So we welcome this and we are happy. But what we don’t want is for this to be like other agreements, such as CEDAW [Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women]. It was signed 17 years ago and nothing has happened. We don’t want this to happen again, so we really encourage and support the government to take this up – to make sure they stop sexual violence in conflict.
Q: Could you explain why impunity is such a huge problem in Burma’s ethnic territories?
A: Sexual violence is used systematically, and the main problem is the law. There is zero law enforcement on these cases. They excuse it, every time. They say, ‘We, the military have our own law, our own institutions. So don’t worry, we can handle it by ourselves.’ It’s a kind of impunity.
The military needs to be controlled; they should be under civilian control.
Q: What is the role of women in Burma’s peace process? Is there enough representation?
A: Enough? No.
We rarely see women’s participation in the peace process. There is some in Karen, Karenni and Mon [states], but in other cases, we don’t see any women participating in the peace process.
Q: What message would you like to bring back to the women of Burma, following the summit in London?
A: Only one person at the summit talked about the root cause of the problem. It is militarisation. Leymah Gbowee, the Nobel peace prize winner, was the only one to mention the root cause. The others, they didn’t talk about it.
People are using all these polite words. The top leaders talk, they comment, but we’re not clear about the mechanisms, how they will bring justice to the victims. During the summit, we mostly heard from very big organisations, like INGOs and the UN. They’re on the panels; they talk; they use the best words. But we shouldn’t forget the capacity of local organisations. They live with the community, they know the real problems.
A few of the contexts where we could use more cash
JUNE 26, 2014 BY ANNA NELSON
You might be surprised to learn that South Sudan, Iraq, Afghanistan, Colombia, Israel and the Occupied Territories, and Myanmar are among the ICRC's top underfunded operations. You can find an infographic break-down of how much we need (in Swiss francs) on icrc.org.
Here's an approximate breakdown of how much we need in US dollars:
South Sudan: 45 million
Iraq: 36 million
Afghanistan: 25 million
Colombia: 23 million
Israel and the Occupied Territories: 22 million
Myanmar: 20 million
The infographic also shows we've been doing in these countries lately.
For instance, in Iraq, where armed conflict continues and fighting has spread from Mosul into central parts of the country, the ICRC has managed to provide food and other aid to more than 150,000 people, who were forced to flee their homes.
In South Sudan, together with the National Red Cross, we have also fed 250,000 people since the beginning of the crisis there. This heart-breaking narrated photo gallery paints a grim picture of a situation that has pretty much dropped out of the headlines here in the US. Yet, for those affected by the violence, it's a matter of life and death. Below you will find some rare and impressive footage of an ICRC airdrop over South Sudan.
And in Afghanistan, the ICRC recently helped a group of disabled basketball players achieve the impossible dream. With the help and encouragement of their American coach, Jess Markt, they recently competed for the first time abroad in Italy.
As the ICRC's Alberto Cairo says, they proved that "Afghanistan is not just about war, explosions, fighting and suicide attacks… it's about more than that." Watch the video of the team in Italy below and check out the infographic to learn more about our other underfunded contexts.
By NYEIN NYEIN
RANGOON — Nine NGOs providing humanitarian support for internally displaced persons (IDPs) in Kachin and northern Shan states say limited funding and uncertainty over when—or even if ever—the displaced will have an opportunity to return home are still among the biggest challenges facing aid groups.
At a press conference in Rangoon on Friday, relief workers laid out the difficulties in ensuring that displaced populations in northern Burma are adequately provided for. A total of 120,000 IDPs are living in camps in both government- and ethnic Kachin rebel-controlled territories. Some have been displaced since fighting between the government and the Kachin Independence Army (KIA) resumed in June 2011.
Despite peace talks aimed at reestablishing a ceasefire, the aid workers stressed that ongoing clashes, the presence of landmines and general uncertainty about the region’s future made return impossible for the IDPs at present.
“The humanitarian assistance should continue in the IDPs camps until a safe return and resettlement takes place. This aid should be duly funded in order to guarantee the fulfilment of minimum humanitarian standards,” said the nine groups, who have formed a Joint Strategy Team to more effectively coordinate aid.
Mary Tawn, the director of the Kachin aid group Wunpawng Ninghtoi (WPN), presented details of the team’s humanitarian response, including information on food provisions and initiatives on hygiene, education and health care.
She stressed that it was important for humanitarian aid to continue flowing into the region, with groups only able to meet the total needs of 39 percent of the approximately 90,000 IDPs in territory controlled by the KIA.
Gum Sha Aung, the national humanitarian coordinator of the Metta Development Foundation, said ensuring the IDPs’ rights in any future return program would need to be part of current peace talks, as would greater women’s participation.
“The IDPs need to be directly involved in any discussion about return and resettlement, which ensures that they are fully informed of their rights and options,” the Joint Strategy Team said.
Myint Myint Ohn Khin, Burma’s minister for social welfare, relief and resettlement, also gave remarks at Friday’s press conference.
“I want to encourage the local and national groups, who are collaborating in the humanitarian sector, to work without bias and to follow the basic principles of international humanitarian aid, such as impartiality, neutrality, independence, transparency and accountability,” she said.
The minister urged greater cooperation between local NGOs and international aid groups working with IDPs in Kachin and northern Shan states.
“It is great to see the local NGOs and CSOs [civil society organizations] advocating for the rights of their people and engaging the international community on how best they can deliver humanitarian responses with respect to the local context,” said an INGO participant, one of more than 100 aid workers from local and international organizations that attended the press conference on Friday.
The aid groups said 88,898 IDPs are sheltering at 148 camps in areas controlled by the Kachin rebel armed group and administered by its political wing, the Kachin Independence Organization. A total of US$35 million has been spent on humanitarian aid in these camps from June 2011 through May 2014.
“I will continue collaborating with the related ministries, state governments, UN agencies, and national and international NGOs on humanitarian support, until their socioeconomic lives are improved after a genuine peace prevails in Kachin and northern Shan States,” said Myint Myint Ohn Khin, who is also a chairwoman of the Myanmar Women’s Affairs Committee and the National Child Rights Committee.
“The local CSOs’ participation is a great support for us and I want to add that all of your cooperation is welcomed,” the minister added.
Vast tracts of eastern Burma are littered with landmines, remnants of a long running civil war between rebel armies and successive Burmese regimes.
Yet as ceasefire talks continue and hostile armies move towards peace, the mines continue to plague innocent villagers.
Local residents in Karenni and southern Shan states are now demanding that the government begin clearing the landscape of these deadly weapons.
Of particular concern, the villagers say, are mines laid by the Burmese army in the pastureland that surrounds electricity towers.
The national power grid stretches out through Karenni State, and throughout decades of war the Burmese army mined fields surrounding infrastructure such as the Lawpita Hydropower plant.
The towers have been designated targets by ethnic armed groups throughout the conflict in eastern Burma. Since the 1960s, locals say, these landmines have claimed the lives of civilians, cattle, and even the towers’ maintenance workers.
One staff member from Myanmar Electric Power Enterprise said that several of his co-workers have been killed.
“We have lost workers to the landmines. They usually die from their injuries,” he said. “It happens quite often around tower-36 near to Lawpita. One of our men stood on one and was killed on the spot.”
Residents in villages along the grid, which runs from southern Karenni state north into Shan State, said for generations they have lived with the constant fear of stepping on a landmine. This fear, they say, has caused psychological trauma among the local populace.
“With all the ordinance around, we feel very unsafe walking or working in the fields, trying to make a living,” said one Lawpita resident.
“Sometimes we bring our dogs to our farm work and they play around and set off a landmine.”
Ethnic political parties believe that a demining programme should go hand in hand with ceasefire agreements and peace talks between the government and ethnic armed groups.
Nan Yi, general secretary of the Kayan National Party, reinforced that sentiment.
“Since we can now see peace on the horizon, we don’t think the situation demands the use of landmines. Those who are responsible for laying these mines should begin a demining programme,” he said.
He added that fearful farmers are often the victims of an added injustice.
“Quite often, cattle owned by locals accidently set off mines. The owner, while having lost their cattle, is also made to pay compensation for the mine that exploded,” Nan Yi said.
Global drug use prevalence stable, says UNODC World Drug Report 2014
26 June 2014 - Drug use prevalence is stable around the world, according to the 2014 World Drug Report of the United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC), with around 243 million individuals, or 5 per cent of the world's population aged 15-64, having used an illicit drug in 2012. Problem drug users meanwhile numbered about 27 million, roughly 0.6 per cent of the world's adult population, or 1 in every 200 people.
Launching the report in Vienna today, the International Day against Drug Abuse and Illicit Trafficking, Yury Fedotov, Executive Director of UNODC, appealed for a stronger focus on the health and human rights of all drug users, but particularly those who inject drugs and are living with HIV. "There remain serious gaps in service provision. In recent years only one in six drug users globally has had access to or received drug dependence treatment services each year," he said, stressing that some 200,000 drug-related deaths had occurred in 2012.
The UNODC chief said sustainable success in drug control required firm international commitment. A balanced and comprehensive approach addressing both supply and demand should be backed up by evidence-based responses focusing on prevention, treatment, social rehabilitation and integration. "This is particularly important as we move towards the Special Session of the General Assembly on the world drug problem in 2016," Mr. Fedotov stated. He also stressed that controlled substances should be made more widely available for medical purposes, including for ensuring access to pain medication, while preventing their misuse and diversion for illicit ends.
Deadly opioid surrogates, shrinking global cocaine supply and mixed picture of cannabis use
The surge in opium production in Afghanistan represented a setback, said Mr. Fedotov, since the world's largest opium-poppy grower had increased its area under cultivation by 36 per cent from 154,000 hectares in 2012 to 209,000 hectares in 2013. With a crop yield of some 5,500 tons, Afghanistan accounted for up to 80 per cent of global opium production. In Myanmar, the area under opium poppy cultivation covered 57, 800 hectares, continuing the increase in cultivation begun after 2006. In 2013, the global production of heroin also rebounded to the high levels witnessed in 2008 and 2011.
The US, Oceania and some European and Asian countries have seen users switching between heroin and pharmaceutical opioids, a trend largely dictated by low prices and accessibility; but whereas dependent opioid users in the US are switching from pharmaceutical opioids to heroin, users in some European countries are replacing heroin with synthetic opioids.
The global availability of cocaine fell as production declined from 2007 to 2012. Cocaine use remained high in North America, though decreasing since 2006. Whereas cocaine consumption and trafficking appear to be increasing in South America, Africa has already witnessed emerging cocaine use due to the rise in trafficking through that continent, while greater spending power has made some Asian countries vulnerable to cocaine use.
Globally, cannabis use seems to be down but a perception of lower health risks has led to more consumption in North America. Although it is too early to understand the effects of new regulatory frameworks making the recreational use of cannabis legal in some states of the US and Uruguay under certain conditions, more people are seeking treatment for cannabis-related disorders in most regions in the world, including North America.
Seizures of methamphetamine more than doubled globally between 2010 and 2012. Methamphetamine manufacture expanded once again in North America, with a large increase in the number of meth laboratories dismantled in the US and Mexico. Of the 144 tons of amphetamine-type stimulants (ATS) seized globally, half were intercepted in North America and a quarter in East and South-East Asia. The number of unregulated new psychoactive substances on the global market more than doubled to 348 from 2009 to 2013.
Controlling precursors, curtailing the supply of illicit drugs
The globalization of the chemical trade has made it easier to divert chemicals from legal to illegal uses. However, the control of precursors, the chemicals needed to manufacture plant-based or synthetic drugs, has tangibly curbed such diversion.
Between 2007 and 2012, 15 per cent of diverted acetic anhydride, used to manufacture heroin, and 15 per cent of potassium permanganate, used to produce cocaine, were intercepted. During that period, seizures of amphetamine and methamphetamine precursors were more than twice as high as seizures of the drugs themselves. Declines in the use of substances such as LSD and ecstasy in recent years can also be partly attributed to improvements in precursor control, which keeps the price of diverted chemicals high and raises the production costs of drugs. In Afghanistan, acetic anhydride commanded up to $430 per litre in 2011, up from $8 in 2002, but it cost $1.50 per litre in the world's licit markets. As progress has been made in tracking down precursors, criminals have turned to new tactics, such as creating front companies and diverting precursors within countries to circumvent international controls. New unregulated "pre-precursors" have rapidly emerged as substitutes for the controlled precursors used to produce ATS. Mr. Fedotov urged utmost vigilance. "Monitoring global chemical flows is especially important with the rising manufacture and trafficking of synthetic drugs, which cannot be controlled with traditional supply reduction approaches such as crop eradication," he said. "A robust international control system must remain a key supply control strategy."
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Refugees sheltering in displacement camps in Kachin and northern Shan states have all but given up hope of going home any time soon.
Battles continue to rage in the region between Burmese government forces and ethnic armed groups.
DVB spoke to residents living in Man Wain Gyi camp near Mansi Towsnhip.
“I don’t think we’ll have the chance to go home. Burmese troops are still stationed in our village. So it’s unlikely we’ll be going home any time soon,” said one displaced woman.
“We heard more fighting last night,” said another young woman. She said she heard gunfire.
A young student said the refugees are constantly scared that fighting will spill over into the camp.
“I always feel afraid every time there is a clash,” she said.
This month marked the third anniversary of renewed conflict in Kachin State, after a 17-year ceasefire between the Kachin Independence Organisation (KIO) and the Burmese government broke down.
Since 2011, more than 100,000 civilians have been displaced by the fighting.
Peace talks between ethnic rebel groups and government peace negotiators have been ongoing, and in May the two sides agreed to establish a joint peace-keeping commission.
But many civilians are disillusioned with the talks as whatever progress is made at the negotiation table ultimately fails to end the fighting.
“I wish they would speed up the peace talks so we can live in peace. We all just want to live in peace,” said a displaced man living in Man Wain Gyi camp.
Man Wain Gyi is a government-controlled town in Mansi Township, which lies between China and northern Shan State. After fighting between the KIA and government troops erupted near the town in April, over 3,000 people were forced to flee their homes. Many came to the camps around Man Waing Gyi, while others fled to China.
Despite calls from President Thein Sein for a nationwide ceasefire, armed clashes continue to break out in the northern border regions and thousands of IDPs continue to worry that they’ll never be able to go home.
The Central Emergency response Fund (CERF) had another record year in 2013, as donors contributed US$477 million to support emergency response efforts in 45 countries.
Whether in high-profile natural disasters or forgotten emergencies, the humanitarian community once again relied on rapid and strategic CERF funding to kick-start the response and to keep life-saving programmes running.
CERF enabled UN agencies and NGOs to respond quickly to humanitarian crises including the highest-level emergencies in the Central African Republic, South Sudan and Syria. CERF was also used to boost the humanitarian response in crises that were underfunded, allocating an unprecedented $175 million to address humanitarian needs in countries including Algeria, Bangladesh and Colombia.
The strategic management of CERF continued to improve, as the CERF secretariat implemented all the recommendations contained in the management Response Plan from its five-year evaluation and further refined its Performance and accountability Framework.
I am profoundly grateful to the donors—including 68 member states, corporations, regional governments and many private individuals—who demonstrated their faith in CERF’s effectiveness and gave generously. as humanitarian needs continue to grow, with conflicts and natural disasters becoming more numerous and intense, funding needs will be substantial in 2014.
I appeal to UN member states, the private sector and individuals to support CERF generously again, so that it can continue to ensure that life-saving assistance reaches people in need, quickly and equitably.
Under-Secretary-General for Humanitarian affairs and Emergency Relief Coordinator
By FELIZ SOLOMON
In a port town just west of Bangkok, Burmese labourers toil under slave-like conditions in a multi-billion dollar seafood industry.
It started with a nameless phone number passed around until it got to Ngwe Htay, a Mon State native who lived on a farm until an electrical fire wiped it away in a quick sweep of misfortune.
The man on the phone promised jobs for his family in a Chinese-owned seafood processing plant, for a fee of US$400 each. They would be transported to the facility near Bangkok, Thailand, where they would be provided housing, meals and work permits.
Ngwe Htay, his wife, three children, son-in-law, and four-year-old grandson left their village by bus for Moulmein, the capital of Mon State. There they took an overnight boat and a bus to Three Pagodas Pass, at the border between Karen State and Kanchanaburi, Thailand. After they crossed the border, a man instructed the seven stowaways to climb beneath a false floor in the back of a truck.
Crammed in and covered in plastic tarp, they spent more than 20 hours underneath seated passengers, arriving in Mahachai at around 10pm the following day.
Mahachai is the informal, antiquated name for the port town of Samut Sakhon, just west of Bangkok. It is one of the major seats of Thailand’s fishing industry, which brings in billions of dollars annually and employs about 150,000 people, most of whom are migrants from Burma, Laos and Cambodia.
Burmese make up a huge majority of that workforce; Human Rights Watch (HRW) estimated in 2010 that 70 to 80 percent of Thailand’s migrants are from Burma. The Thai Ministry of Labour told DVB that there are around 1,000,000 migrant workers in Thailand, and that half of them have legitimate work documents. The US Department of State, however, has estimated that Thailand has as many as 3,000,000 migrant workers, accounting for roughly five percent of the country’s entire workforce of approximately 66 million.
It was already dark when Ngwe Htay’s family crawled out and the truck drove off. What had been advertised as a bustling factory turned out to be an abandoned building.
“A young woman showed up, she said that her boss was very nice and generous, and that if we were in trouble she could help us”
A woman, a Burmese broker who spoke Thai fluently, escorted them to a nearby factory, where they were again promised food, housing, work documents and 300 baht (US$10) per day, which is the minimum wage in Thailand as of April 2011.
Five of Ngwe Htay’s relatives began work the day after their arrival. The family quickly adjusted to waking up at 2:30am to begin 17-hour shifts standing at troughs, peeling shrimp by hand – a job they did for about seven months.
The factory, which Ngwe Htay said has no name, employed about 20 migrants. Workers lived inside the compound, and were not allowed to leave. They were permitted to break once a day to eat. Food was not provided, and a weekly fee was deducted from everyone’s pay to cover their housing. Other expenses chipped away at the pay — which was set at 200 baht (US$6), instead of the promised 300 — such that their earnings ended up closer to zero. These expenses included safety gear, such as rubber gloves and aprons.
The heftiest expense was the work permit, which never materialized. Over the course of five months, 5,000 baht (US$155) was docked from each employee’s pay to cover administrative fees. Whether the permits were ever obtained by the employer is still a mystery; they never reached the hands of the workers, effectively keeping them captive in the factory compound for fear of extortion by Thai police.
In recent years, Thai officials have touted a new approach to legalise workers, and they appear to be making a concerted effort to that end. In 2013, Thailand’s immigration ministry provided legal status for about 800,000 migrants, according to the US State Department. The ministry also launched two new migrant registration campaigns specifically targeting fishery workers, the most recent of which ended on 31 March.
“We would like to send a message to people in Burma that they should try to get work permits, and to enter our country legally, because then they can get full protection,” said Puntrik Smiti, Deputy Secretary of Thailand’s Ministry of Labour. “Their home countries have to help us, too.”
Life in Thailand is trying for migrant workers with or without documentation. At least five provinces have issued decrees that create discriminatory restrictions on migrant life. The decrees, issued in 2006, included curfews and limitations on cell phone usage. The former mayor of Mahachai recommended institutional citywide restrictions designed to prevent the spread of Burmese customs, fearing that migrants would “begin to feel at home here”. Thai authorities claim that these orders have been repealed, but have never produced any documentation to that effect. Human Rights Watch told DVB in May that “we still get reports that local officials use these decrees as an excuse to extort migrant workers in those provinces where they were originally declared.”
Despite the daily hardships — which HRW’s deputy director for Asia, Phil Robertson, said “hasn’t changed at all” in recent years — workers still come in droves because, as Puntrik explained, “Thailand is very attractive to our neighbours”.
But that may have changed since she made the statement in April. On 22 May, Thailand’s long-simmering political stalemate ended with a military coup. The new ruling junta, the National Council for Peace and Order, has initiated rapid reforms under the premise of stabilising the country. Among those changes were several orders meant to “regulate” migrant workers. Reports of systematic purges, which the Thai junta has adamantly denied, have caused panic among some of Thailand’s densest migrant communities; more than 240,000 Cambodian workers have returned to their homeland since the beginning of June. Smaller numbers of Burmese migrants have also been said to flee, though reports are scarce from the border crossings, where a large part of the population lives without documentation.
Mass economic migration to Thailand has been ongoing for decades, and work conditions vary wildly. Of those migrants, all are vulnerable to extreme exploitation, and an unknown percentage end up in the hands of human traffickers. This means that they are sent somewhere other than they wanted to go and in a position of indefinite exploitation. In the particular case of Mahachai, the employment scheme is multi-tiered, spanning all manner of jobs along the production line. Some are far more prone to exploitative conditions than others, and culpability for abuse is systematically difficult to place.
“There are many cases where they [migrants] pay money to a broker and they were sent to the right place. No problem,” said Kyaw Thaung, director of the Myanmar Association of Thailand, an organisation that works directly with Thailand’s Anti-Human Trafficking Department to identify and rescue trafficking victims.
“But there are many cases where the migrants are not sent to the right place. Some end up in slavery, for years.”
Kyaw Thaung was part of the team that helped Ngwe Htay and his family leave the shrimp-peeling factory. In the past two years alone, he has helped more than 260 migrants escape from similar situations – some enslaved on fishing boats, in restaurants and brothels, and many, like Ngwe Htay, in poorly regulated food processing facilities that sometimes supply distributors for markets worldwide. Ngwe Htay and his family now work in one such facility.
Even these factories – larger processing plants that sometimes employ thousands of migrants to clean and package products before exporting them to places like Europe, the United States and Japan — have been accused of sourcing products from abusers at the tail-end of the production chain, but evidence is hard to come by. None allowed DVB access to their facilities and senior managers of one company declined all comment because they “do not wish” for their name to appear in the news.
Ngwe Htay and his family say they were lucky enough to get the step up into one of these facilities; while they may be linked to clear cases of abuse at other, smaller factories, the larger ones now seem relatively well-monitored.
Thet Sein Mon, Ngwe Htay’s 17-year-old daughter, said her new job as an accountant for Phattana Seafood was preferable to the 17 hours a day she spent peeling shrimp by hand.
“Where we were working,” she recalled, “the stand was kind of high, and I am kind of short.” She showed us faint scarring, by now hardly visible, on her forearms from an infection incurred while working at the peeling plant. Because of her height, her skin was exposed to a constant stream of shrimp water every day, causing infection that led to severe, painful blistering of the arms and hands. “I had so many blisters from the shrimp water that I couldn’t use my hands to eat.”
“I like my new job,” Thet Sein Mon said. “I don’t want to move to another job because I’m afraid I’ll be in that situation again.”