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Phuket's faceless Burmese workforce is coming out with Suu Kyi

Phuket Rides Freedom Road With Aung San Suu Kyi

Thursday, June 14, 2012
PHUKET: With Aung San Suu Kyi beginning a tour of Europe, Phuket's small part in the freedom road taken by the admired Burmese leader can be revealed.

It was a wet Sunday morning and Briton Andy Hall, an academic and activist, was sleeping off the stress at a small holiday resort on Phuket when the telephone rang.

Within minutes, he was riding his rented motorcycle north from Karon beach to Phuket International Airport through driving monsoon rain to catch a flight north to Bangkok for an important meeting with a VIP.

The person who needed his assistance: Aung San Suu Kyi.

Much to the surprise of envoys and Thai officials, the Burmese democracy icon had chosen to end her 24 years of isolation by emerging in Thailand and, before anything else, greeting the Burmese who are Thailand's second-class citizens.

Andy Hall was one of only a few people who knew what ''the Lady'' had planned as he rode through the Phuket wet that Sunday.

A few days later, Aung San Suu Kyi emerged on a balcony to speak to the Burmese who provide Thailand with a cheap work force, slaving in factories, fishing vessels and on construction sites, sometimes in shocking conditions.

In the shadows of the doorway, one step behind ''the Lady,'' was Andy Hall. He was to be there for most of the next few days as the world's media gave massive coverage to Aung San Suu Kyi and the oppressed working Burmese of Thailand.

Now also in Geneva to press home the case for better treatment for Thailand's second-class labor force, Hall was deeply affected by the grace and presence of the woman and those historic moments.

''It was immensely powerful,'' said Hall. ''She lit a flame in their hearts and provided them with so much strength. She found time for her long-lost chldren. I will never forget that week.''

For Hall, who has worked tirelessly for Thailand's immigrant laborers, it was the culmination of six years' hard work since he founded the Migrant Justice Program in Thailand.

Raised among the green fields and rippling streams of Lincolnshire, Hall's cause has been in seeking equality and fair treatment for all in Thailand. Aged just 32, he shows no signs of slowing.

While some non-government organisations are diplomatic to the point of obsequiousness, Hall has constantly been bold in taking on goverment officials and big companies in his role as an advocate and academic at Mahidol University.

Last weekend he ran a media workshop for Bangkok journalists on the migrant labor issue. This coming weekend he will be talking about the troubled minority across Europe.

His concern for Thailand's downtrodden second-class citizens is inspirational. If anyone can shame Thailand into changing its attitude, it will be Andy Hall.

''Migrant workers in workplaces across Thailand continue to suffer from severe and systematic human rights abuses at the hands of unscrupulous brokers, abusive employers and too many government officials,'' he wrote soon after Aung San Suu Kyi's visit.

''Migration between Thailand and Myanmar (Burma) continues to be unregulated and far too abusive. The reasons for these abuses and challenges are complex but stem more generally from poor migration management policies and lax law enforcement, not only in Thailand and Myanmar, but across the Asean region and the world.''

Phuket has as many as 200,000 Burmese in its construction workforce, just a fraction of the millions who staff Thailand's factories and go to sea on trawlers in conditions that border on modern slavery.

Andy Hall believes that Aung San Suu Kyi's historic first moments of freedom taught the world about the despair of Thailand's second-class citizens, and could eventually change their lives for the better.

It's an important issue for Thailand, he says, because those Burmese will be heading home over the next few years, and there is no obvious source for replacing them.

''Thailand has to work out what to do as these people leave,'' he said. ''Their contribution to the economy has been huge, but never officially acknowledged.''

Coming up, he says, is a UN Human Rights Cuncil report next week on human trafficking that should mark another step in the migrants' freedom road.

Hall sees the visit by ''the Lady'' as a fresh beginning, rather than an end. She is not likely to forget. She too will be an advocate for Thailand's second-class citizens from now on.

And Hall adds: ''One of these days, they will be speaking on their own behalf.''

Comments

Comments have been disabled for this article.

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Go Andy. Keep up your good work.

Posted by rich on June 14, 2012 10:33

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Well done Andy, do keep up the good work. Give that man a Bells whisky.

Posted by DunB on June 14, 2012 11:02


Friday August 23, 2019
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