At least 54 Burmese immigrants have been found dead in the South while being moved by human traffickers in a broken refrigerated container usually used to haul seafood.Calls for Thailand to hire more immigration inspectors, or "tighten the border" are but lame and futile gestures; such excuses only legitimate the game. These kinds of remedies -- already being discussed -- ignore the underlying problem.
The bodies were found inside the container on a 10-wheel truck, and found abandoned on the side of a road in southern Ranong province by police, who said they received a tipoff from villagers.
Initial reports said there were more than 100 people packed into truck. At least 54 are dead from asphyxiation, including 37 women and 17 men. Another 21 others were being treated for injuries and near-suffocation.
Police said they arrested 46 Burmese on charges of illegal entry.
The roots of Friday's tragedy
The economic stagnation inside Burma that encourages Burmese to seek employment in Thailand continues. Thailand's policy of non-interference concerning Burma's economic mismanagement and its atrocious human rights policies continues. The smuggling of human cargo continues. Whatever the cost to the people of Burma. Why?
Because Thai businesses and political leaders prosper through this arrangement. Thai companies need pay a Burmese migrant only a fraction of what they pay a Thai. Thai politicians count on support of the businesspeople who run such businesses. The government allows factories dependent on undocumented migrant workers to operate. And so Thailand turns a blind eye to abuses the system perpetuates, and reaps the benefit of cheap labor.
If Thailand legalized the movement of migrant workers, Thai businesses might have to pay these workers better, provide better working conditions, and arrange better housing for them. The Thai businessman would no longer own the Burmese migrant worker. Moreover, corrupt Thai police could not continue to stop Burmese people at random and extort money from them. Supposing the current "legal" migrant worker arrangements were more equitable, corrupt Thai immigration officials might stand to lose a source of income
Will Thais ever wake up to the fact that Thailand's failure to exert meaningful pressure on Burma to improve its governance has serious negative repercussions? Consider: before 2008 has run its course, Burma may find itself lacking sufficient food to feed its people. And if that happens, the flow of migration out of Burma may well become a flood.
Please see the follow-up to this post, Lives of Burmese Migrant Workers in Thailand.