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Embassy responds to dispute with migrant group

The Burmese embassy in Bangkok. (Photo: DVB)

The Burmese embassy in Bangkok has acknowledged that cards it had issued to two Burmese migrants rights groups working in Thailand had been “confiscated”, but denied that the move would affect the groups’ ability to operate in the country.

“The embassy took in the current cards of both groups which resigned as they will be issued with new ones by the Thai government,” said embassy official Moe Aung Naing, according to a report on Thursday by the state-run Global New Light of Myanmar.

A report by Reuters on Wednesday claimed that the two groups — the Aid Alliance Committee for Myanmar Workers (AAC) and the Myanmar Association in Thailand (MAT) — had been “blocked from operating” in Thailand after their “licenses” were revoked by the embassy following a meeting on 8 August.

“We’ve decided to stop operations since we can’t do anything without a license,” said the AAC’s Ye Min — a claim denied by the Foreign Ministry’s permanent secretary, Aung Lynn, who blamed the incident on “infighting among activists”.

The different takes on the issue appear to stem at least in part from confusion over the use of the term “license” to refer to the cards issued by the embassy. Both groups have long functioned without any official sanction from the Burmese government, and have only recently begun to cooperate with the embassy on migrant issues.

Until earlier this week, the two groups were members of the embassy’s Worker Assistance Committee, but relations with the embassy’s labour attachés have long been far from smooth.

Last month, MAT director Kyaw Thaung urged Burma’s new National League for Democracy (NLD) government to replace embassy officials currently dealing with migrant issues, describing them as rude and insensitive to the plight of Burmese workers in Thailand.

“They are only willing to work with ‘brokers’,” he said, recounting how the labour attachés responded to a request for assistance with a case involving migrants who were paid just 200 baht (US$5.70) to work from 5am to 2pm.

“They responded by saying that they did not want to lose face by confronting the Thai Labour Ministry about it,” he said, adding that when they approached the officials about the case again later, “The attachés yelled at us, shouted rude things, and threatened to get us arrested for disturbing their work.”

Speaking to DVB on Thursday, Kyaw Thaung confirmed that the groups would continue their work in Thailand despite leaving the embassy’s Worker Assistance Committee.

“We said at the meeting that after working on migrant rights and trafficking issues in Thailand for over 13 years, we have become acquainted with Thailand’s Department of Special Investigation and other anti-human trafficking bodies and departments,” he said.

“When we have solid information on human trafficking, we will work with them to help the Burmese migrants who fall victim in these cases.”