Justice Sought for 54 (Dead) Burmese Workers

The story barely received a blurb in the U.S. press (Thurs, 4/10/08).  Inside a refrigerated truck designed to transport seafood, a group of 121 Burmese women, men and children were suffocating inside, just hoping to make it to their destination—work–a job–in the resort towns on the Andaman coast of Thailand.  According to the Asia Times, the truck was following a route taken by tens of thousands of Burmese, seeking jobs in Thailand’s fisheries industry, construction sector and rubber and palm oil plantations.  The UN-affiliated Asian Network for the Rights of Occupational Accident Victims (ANROAV), coodinated by Jadish Patel (APHA/OHS awardee), urges the worldwide community of workers’ rights advocates to condemn the economic, social and political environment in Burma which makes illegal migration necessary for these workers.  When this truck was seized, 54 of the migrant workers had perished, including 37 young women.

The Asia Times reports further:

“Migrant labor from Myanmar has been the main work force behind the construction of the many hotels that dot the beaches of Phang-nga and Phuket, mainstays of Thailand’s vibrant tourist industry. In the fisheries sector, the men are employed on the boats that go out to sea, while the women work in factories to process the catch from the nearby ocean.”

“‘There is a lot of exploitation in the fisheries sector. The Burmese have to work for long hours and with low pay,’ said Sutphiphong Khongkathon, southern field coordinator for the Migrant Action Program Foundation (MAP Foundation), a non-governmental organization (NGO). ‘Nearly 80% of the Burmese migrant workers are not registered workers in the fisheries sector. And Thai labor law does not offer any protection for them.'”

“Fueling this exodus is military-ruled Myanmar’s steadily declining economies, prompting people from a broad range of sectors to leave. The violence the Myanmar junta has unleashed on the country’s ethnic minorities has also driven people across the border to a more prosperous Thailand.”

Jadish Patel’s ANROAV is calling for a thorough and transparent investigation by the Royal Thai and Burmese governments of this most recent incident, and urges the global press focus on these labor injustices.  ANROAV’s statement reminds us that the truck driver involved in the illegal human trafficking should be held to account, but

“the heads of such human trafficking gangs, which we understand are linked to both the Thai and Burmese officials and business interests.”

Among those who survived the inhumane conditions, the 14 children were separated and deported, while the rest spent 3 days in jail, received a two-month suspended sentence and are facing deportation.

ANROAV objects, saying:

“We believe that to charge and fine traumatized workers at that age is an act of abject inhumanity and inconsistent with the Buddhist values that Thailand espouses.  This is a matter of national shame and we hope that Thailand uses this opportunity to clean up the well known trafficking routes and responsible gangs.”

Moreover,

“The Burmese military junta has created a situation in Burma where large swathes of its population must flee for personal safety or in search of more prosperous economies to support themselves and their families.  The junta has a profound lack of respect for human dignity and basic human rights that it well documented and known throughout the world.”

ANROAV calls on the Royal Thai government to:

  1. Initiate a transparent inquiry into this incident which claimed 54 lives
  2. Halt the deportation of the survivors until the inquiry is complete and after the perpetrators are brought to justice
  3. Provide adequate compensation and support to the dependents of the deceased Burmese migrant workers
  4. Overhaul the registration system for migrant workers so that it recognizes the economic necessity and benefit to Thailand of these individuals.

To add your name in suport of ANROAV’s justice seeking efforts for these migrant workers, send an email to Jadish Patel at: jagdish.jb@gmail.com

Celeste Monforton, MPH had the honor of meeting Mr. Jadish Patel at the 2007 meeting of the American Public Health Association.  He’s an AMAZING and COMPASSIONATE man, AND the good-natured Jadish played along with our irreverant skit that poked fun at Indian-based call centers.

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