News24

Deportation threats for Thai's work force

2012-12-14 18:02

Bangkok - Thailand's refusal to extend a Friday paperwork deadline for the country's foreign labourers would expose more than one million people to the threat of deportation, labour activists and officials said.

The government's deadline for an estimated 900 000 registered alien workers to prove their nationality to the Labour Ministry expired on Friday, exposing hundreds of thousands of Cambodian, Lao and Myanmar citizens to immediate deportation. The deadline only applied to labourers and not to foreign professionals.

Labour rights and business groups had urged the government to extend the deadline.

"We will not extend the deadline," said a senior official at the Labour Ministry who asked to remain anonymous.

"After this, all unverified foreign workers will need to leave the country and return through legal channels."

An estimated 2.5 million foreigners are labourers in Thailand, of whom 886 500 are registered with authorities, according to Labour Ministry figures.

Of the registered workers, about 530 000 met the Labour Ministry's Friday deadline to verify their nationalities and receive temporary passes from the ministry.

"After the deadline expires, we will get strict about deporting all unverified alien labourers," Immigration Police Commissioner Panu Kertlabpol said.

About 350 000 registered workers failed to meet the deadline and another 1.5 million foreigners work as labourers illegally, according to estimates by the government and labour rights groups.

A mass deportation would threaten labour-intensive industries, such as fisheries and construction, labour activists warned.

"If these 1.5 million people get sent back, the economy would be crushed. It's impossible," said Andy Hall, international adviser to the State Enterprise Work Relations Confederation of Thailand, one of the country's leading labour organisations.

Given Thailand's dependence on its illegal labour force, some question the seriousness of the government's threat of mass deportation.

"What we are going to see after today is a massive extortion exercise by Thai authorities because they will be able to take advantage of the undocumented workers," Hall said.