Police arrested hundreds of illegal workers this month. They face up to five years in prison, fines or deportation. "They should be doing the jobs that Thais don't want to do like work as house cleaners,” immigration police chief says. Thailand’s economy is expected to grow 3 per cent this year, a far cry from the 7 per cent of the 1990s. At least 3 million foreign workers are in the country.
Bangkok (AsiaNews/Agencies) – Thai authorities are cracking down on migrant workers from neighbouring countries on the grounds that they are "stealing jobs from Thais".
This is coming amid fears that anti-immigrant sentiment is rising as the economy stagnates, human rights groups say.
Recently, Thailand’s Labour Department carried out raids netting hundreds of illegal immigrants. In one such operations, police arrested 14 people at a fresh market in Bangkok, most of them from neighbouring Myanmar.
"We have received many complaints about illegal immigrants working in markets including Vietnamese and even South Asians who were stealing jobs from Thais," Thai immigration police chief Nathorn Phrosunthorn said.
"They should be doing the jobs that Thais don't want to do like work as house cleaners," he noted, adding that the crackdown was not driven by an anti-immigrant policy. "We still need migrant labour. We just want to keep some order”.
Police raids have targeted fresh markets, restaurants, supermarkets and shopping malls. About 153 immigrants have been rounded up this month alone. Those caught face up to five years in prison, a fine of up to 3,000 baht (US$ 100) or deportation.
According to the International Organisation for Migration, more than 3 million migrants work in Thailand. Unofficial sources say that the figure is much higher. Most migrants come from Myanmar (Burma), Vietnam and Cambodia.
Under the terms of a 2015 memorandum of understanding, Vietnamese nationals are restricted in their employment in Thailand and can work only as manual labourers in the country’s fishing or construction sectors.
At least, 100,000 refugees (including minority Rohingya Muslims) have been stuck in camps on the border between Thailand and Myanmar.
Thailand became wealthy compared to its neighbours when its economy boasted annual growth rates of over 7 per cent in the 1980s and 1990s, drawing migrant workers from across the Greater Mekong Delta region and other parts of Asia.
But, more than two years after the military government seized power the economy is on shaky ground. This year, it is on course to grow 3 per cent after expanding 2.8 per cent last year, and only 0.7 per cent in 2014.
" We haven't seen this kind of rise in anti-immigrant sentiment for decades,” said Sunai Phasuk from Human Rights Watch. “This has a lot to do with economic concerns".
Sanit Choklamlert, a shopkeeper in Bangkok's Silom business district, said migrants are seen as competitors for some Thais.
"There are too many Myanmar people here now and they're fighting for the same jobs as we are," he said. "We need to send some back."