Investors 'blamed' for hostage crises

source : BKKpost
Thongbai Thongpao

The long-standing problem of illegitimate foreign labour in Thailand became even more alarming when nine Burmese inmates took a number of officials of Samut Sakhon jail hostage in a desperate bid to escape to the Burmese border. The prisoners were eventually ambushed by a Thai commando team and all of them were killed. One hostage, a chaplain, also lost his life while the jail commander was critically injured.

This is the third serious crime caused by Burmese in a couple of years, the others being the hostage crisis at the Burmese embassy in Bangkok and the seizure of Ratchaburi Hospital. Normally, Thailand is regarded as the most peaceful country in Southeast Asia. Thus, people from less settled countries often take refuge here.

When the Vietnamese fought for independence from France and during the war with America, many of them took refuge in Thailand. Some became Thai citizens while others eventually returned or moved on. Likewise when the Laotians and Cambodians fought for independence from France.

Apart from these, there were also refugees from the North, such as hilltribesmen, Shans and Kuomintang soldiers in Thailand. Meanwhile, Chinese terrorists from Malaysia caused trouble in the south. Unrest caused by refugees usually ends when calm is restored in their own countries and they can return home.

At present, the only problem is in the provinces along the Thai-Burmese border. As Burma does not have democratic rule, the people are suppressed and their human rights violated. The minorities, be they Hmong, Karen or Shans, are often exploited and mistreated by the ruling junta. This suppression and disrespect for human rights has led to sporadic fighting against the tyrants. Cruel suppression, coupled with failure to solve economic problems, has caused unemployment and hunger, forcing the people to enter Thailand. By the same token, as Thailand industrialises, it is in dire need of cheap labour.

Many investors especially prefer Burmese workers because, apart from being cheap, they are usually easy to control. Also, there are no welfare costs and the workers dare not protest about conditions for fear of being deported. As such, there have been repeated calls for relaxations in the law which have sometimes been successful.

According to news reports, Burmese workers have caused a lot of trouble and commit a lot of crimes. They kill among themselves, and sometimes their employers. The three incidents only highlight this long-standing problem. In the most recent incidents, the police used full force against the terrorists to set an example but they did not win any praise from the international community.

After the latest incident, many parties called on the authorities to review their policy on foreign labour. But in my view, the problem cannot be solved unilaterally because its root is Burma itself. As long as the country violates human rights, ignores democracy, and fails to solve its economic problems, its people will have no choice but to run away to Thailand. The most effective solution to this problem lies in the hands of Burma. If its problems are solved, the Burmese people will not run away from their country and those who have already done so will return.

In the meantime, investors must stop relying on this cheap, illegitimate labour, especially since it might be used as an excuse for non-tariff trade barriers against Thai exports in the future. Above all, politicians must not embrace the use of these illegitimate labourers even if their supporters, the businessmen, are the very same people who benefit from the situation. I plead with the politicians and businessmen to forsake their benefits for once and act in the best interests of the country to maintain peace and order.