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A Burmese worker shows off his permit to work on Phuket

Burmese 'Passports' Mark New Phuket Deal

Sunday, July 12, 2009
SENIOR officials from Burma and Thailand met on Phuket yesterday to discuss the future of legal and illegal workers from Burma.

A new system is being introduced that involves large-scale changes designed to legitimise by registration as many Burmese workers as possible.

If the worker has a job, then his or her position can be legitimised.

The change represents a comprehensive attempt to reduce people-smuggling along the Andaman coast and throughout Thailand.

According to the official figure for possible registration, Phuket's population contains 91,453 illegal and legal Burmese workers. Sixteen Cambodian and 120 Lao workers are also listed.

At yesterday's top-level meeting, the Permanent Secretary of Burma's Foreign Ministry, Maung Myaint, met with Thai Labor Minister Pitoon Keawtong at the Thavorn Grand Plaza in Phuket City.

Efforts are being made to register as many illegal workers as possible this month throughout Thailand. The Burmese involved will have the opportunity after registration to retunr to Burma to be issued with a worker's ''passport.''

Maung Myaint said he had been trying for five years to resolve the problems associated with Burmese in Thailand.

''From July 15, all Burmese working in Thailand will be able to return to Victoria Point [the Burmese twin port of Ranong] and two other border towns, to register as Burmese citizens,'' he said.

However, he said the system could only process 200 applications a day at each crossing point.

Just how the Burmese officials propose to deal with the thousands of people who will be seeking to register remains unclear.

The Burmese part of the process would be at no cost, Muang Myaint said. Those who were being told there would be a fee are being given misinformation, he added.

The Thai authorities would ask each Burmese to pay 2000 baht for a two-year visa, Khun Khun Pitoon said.

The issue of people-trafficking and illegal workers is likely to be a focus at next week's Asean and associated summit meetings.

News outlets report today that two men have been charged with the trafficking of two Burmese refugees in Malaysia, that country's first such cases of people smuggling for the purposes of ''forced labor''.

Second-hand goods trader Azhar Yusof, 32, and self-employed Mohamad Nazeri Mat Hussein, 50, appeared separately in court on Friday, according to the New Straits Times.

The two Malaysians, who allegedly made 1500 ringgit ($419) in each deal, face up to 20 years in jail and a fine of 500,000 ringgit if convicted. Both denied the charges.

Prosecutor Mohamad Dusuki Mokhtar said they were believed to be part of a human trafficking syndicate.

Last month, the US put Malaysia back on a people smuggling blacklist, saying the country had failed to comply with minimum standards to eliminate trafficking.

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