Thailand: Suu Kyi visits Myanmar migrants

2012-05-30 15:15

Mahachai - Kicking off her first trip abroad in nearly a quarter-century, Myanmar opposition leader Aung San Suu Kyi offered encouragement on Wednesday to impoverished migrants whose flight to neighbouring Thailand is emblematic of the devastation wrought on her homeland by decades of misrule.

"Don't feel down, or weak. History is always changing," she told an exuberant crowd of thousands southwest of Bangkok. Many held signs saying, "We want to go home," and Suu Kyi said her visit was aimed at learning how she could help them.

"Today, I will make you one promise: I will try my best for you," she said.

Suu Kyi, who arrived in Bangkok late on Tuesday, left her luxury hotel and the skyscraper-packed capital on Wednesday for the nearby town of Mahachai, home to Thailand's largest population of Burmese migrants.

Thousands of Myanmar's downtrodden crowded around her and chanted: "Long Live Mother Suu!"

"I had only seen her on TV and in newspapers," said Saw Hla Tun, who left Myanmar's Karen state seven years ago and earns a meagre wage carrying heavy salt sacks on his back. "I couldn't hold back my tears when I saw her."

Signs of change

After speaking to the crowd from a fourth-floor balcony at a community centre, the Nobel Peace Prize winner met with migrant workers who told her they face mistreatment from employers but lack knowledge of their rights and have no legal means to settle disputes.

Suu Kyi spent 15 of the last 24 years under house arrest. During intermittent periods of freedom, she dared not leave Myanmar - not even to visit her dying husband - because she feared the military junta ruling at the time would not allow her to return.

Now, in a sign of how much life has changed, the democracy activist and newly elected member of Parliament is travelling across Thailand, where she will speak later this week at the World Economic Forum on East Asia.

She'll return to Myanmar briefly before heading to Europe for a five-country tour in mid-June. Her stops include England where she'll address the British Parliament and Oslo, Norway, to formally accept the Nobel Peace Prize she won 21 years ago.

Fixing a battered economy is one of the most crucial challenges facing Myanmar, also known as Burma, as it begins opening up in the wake of 49 years of military governance that ended only last year.

Thailand hosts around 2.5 million impoverished Burmese who have fled here to work low-skilled jobs as domestic servants or in manual labour industries like fisheries and the garment sector.

Exploitation

Andy Hall, a migrant expert and researcher at the Institute for Population and Social Research at Thailand's Mahidol University, said the Burmese migrants - up to a million of them undocumented - make up between 5 and 10% of the Thai work force, contributing as much as 7% of the nation's GDP.

Many are exploited and paid reduced wages. Some have been trafficked; some have had their passports confiscated by employers. Hall said they were nevertheless "the lifeblood of a lot of the Myanmar economy, sending home money to support families who don't have enough money to eat".

"They have no voice, they can never speak up or stand up," Hall said. "So for Aung San Suu Kyi to visit is like a dream come true, someone who finally may be able to bring attention to their suffering."

One of the migrants, a 26-year-old woman named Khin Than Nu, works at a Thai canning factory and dreams of her home in Myanmar's Mon state.

"We left our parents in Burma, and all my brothers and sisters work here to support our parents," she said. "I hope Daw Suu will help develop our country, and bring jobs so we can go home."

 

- AP
Read more on:    aung san suu kyi  |  myanmar  |  thailand
NEXT ON NEWS24X
SHARE:

Read News24’s Comments Policy

24.com publishes all comments posted on articles provided that they adhere to our Comments Policy. Should you wish to report a comment for editorial review, please do so by clicking the 'Report Comment' button to the right of each comment.

Comment on this story
0 comments
Add your comment
Comment 0 characters remaining
 

Inside News24

 
/News
 

Joburg hot spots for cocktails, craft beer, tapas and wine!

It’s the season to be jolly – so we’ve rounded up some new Joburg hot spots!

 
 

I love summer.24

Christmas lingerie to make this festive season the best one ever!
13 things you might not know about Disneyland
The craziest deaths of 2014
How to make this a sensual, sexy summer!

Jobs in Cape Town [change area]

Property [change area]

Travel - Look, Book, Go!

Kalahari.com - shop online today

2DAYS ONLY – 30% off Appliances

Coffee makers, blenders, fans, juicers and more. T&Cs apply. Shop now!

2 DAYS ONLY – 40% off books

Get 40% off when you buy 2 books. For two days only! T&Cs apply. Buy now!

Up to 50% off on outdoor gear

Save on chairs, blankets, cooler bags, umbrellas and more. Shop now!

Save on Samsung

Cameras, mobile phones, TVs, Tablets and more. While stocks last. Shop now!

Grand Theft Auto 5

Now available on PS4, Xbox One and PC from R649. Buy now!

OLX Free Classifieds [change area]

Samsung Galaxy s4

Mobile, Cell Phones in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 24

Best bargain in big bay

Real Estate, Houses - Apartments for Sale in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

VW Golf 6, 1.6 Trendline (Excellent condition)

Vehicles, Cars in South Africa, Western Cape, Cape Town. Date October 25

Horoscopes
Aquarius
Aquarius

There is so much going on around you and inside your head. You may want to take your ideas to the next level. Romance may be...read more

There are new stories on the homepage. Click here to see them.
 
English
Afrikaans
isiZulu

Hello 

Create Profile

Creating your profile will enable you to submit photos and stories to get published on News24.


Please provide a username for your profile page:

This username must be unique, cannot be edited and will be used in the URL to your profile page across the entire 24.com network.

Settings

Location Settings

News24 allows you to edit the display of certain components based on a location. If you wish to personalise the page based on your preferences, please select a location for each component and click "Submit" in order for the changes to take affect.








Facebook Sign-In

Hi News addict,

Join the News24 Community to be involved in breaking the news.

Log in with Facebook to comment and personalise news, weather and listings.