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Two days after being rescued from human traffickers, 19 Burmese migrant workers in the southern Thai port city of Pattani are now bracing for a new ordeal, as they face the prospect of months in detention while the case against their former employer proceeds.
According to Kyaw Thaung, a spokesperson for the Myanmar Association in Thailand (MAT), the rescued workers will be held in custody for the duration of the effort to prosecute a Thai businessman and a Burmese woman accused of holding them against their will.
“The trial will last at least four months, or up to one year,” said Kyaw Thaung. In the meantime, he said, the workers will not be allowed to find new employment and will have to “spend their days in the rescue centre”.
“The final result is that the workers will waste their time and will probably be deported to the border, while the Thai employer who is facing the lawsuit still lives comfortably,” he added.
The workers were rescued on Sunday through a joint effort by the MAT and the Anti-Human Trafficking Division (AHTD) of the Royal Thai Police after a tip-off from someone who overheard their employer bullying the workers on a jetty in Pattani, in Thailand’s far south.
Speaking to DVB by phone on Tuesday, Kyaw Thaung said that among the rescued workers was a 13-year-old boy from Mon State. All of the workers were from Mon and Arakan states.
The workers are currently undergoing questioning at the Pattani police station, while charges have already been laid against one Thai and one Burmese national accused of human trafficking.
The Burmese woman, who was identified as an employment broker, allegedly promised to find work for the 19 migrants at a factory, but later demanded that they pay her 25,000 baht (US$712) each in “compensation” for their release.
MAT’s mission is to rescue human-trafficking victims both at sea and on land. It said that it recently helped workers being exploited by a major construction company in Thailand gain compensation for withheld wages. It also advocates in both Burma and Thailand for reforms to the current system for dealing with cases of abuse against migrant workers in Thailand.
“We have also given advice to Burma’s anti-human-trafficking police team on how to improve the situation for the victims,” said Kyaw Thaung.
Thailand is heavily dependent on migrant workers from Burma and other neighbouring countries to meet the needs of labour-intensive industries. Some, such as fishing and seafood processing, have earned notoriety for being especially prone to gross abuses of basic rights.