Burmese Migrant Workers in Thailand

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Burmese migrant workers in Thailand have entered the international spotlight, following the trial of labor rights activist Andy Hall and the widely questioned arrest of two Burmese laborers on charges of murdering two British tourists on the holiday island of Koh Tao.

An estimated two million Burmese are working inside Thailand, some documented and others there illegally, escaping decades of war back home. Apart from the lack of job opportunities in their own country, many are escaping extreme poverty. Most are in construction, working up to ten hours a day, seven days a week.

Labor rights groups have noted that the majority or Burmese migrants are working for half the allowed minimum wage of 300 baht ($9.25) a day. Given the hard nature of their work, many are exposed to a constant risk of injury or worse. Medical insurance is close to non-existent

Migrant workers are often subjected to bonded labor, in which the migrant is forced to work to repay some form of debt. The system is often abused, and the workers are easy prey for corrupt officials and human traffickers.

Yet despite the hardships, Burmese continue to take their chance in Thailand, seeking a better life for their loved ones.

Photojournalist Rohan Radheya spend three weeks living among migrant workers in several parts of Thailand. He reports from that experience in the following photo essay, which has been submitted to the World Press-sponsored Tim Hetherington Grant 2014.

Burmese Migrant Workers in Thailand
Burmese migrant workers at the infamous garbage dump in Mae Sot on the Thai-Myanmar border. The dump attracts hundreds of undocumented workers, who survive by collecting recyclable material such as wire, plastic and glass. Some of the workers even live at the dump, where they are at risk of contracting disease or being bitten by wild dogs. They also face potential arrest and deportation.
Image Credit: Rohan Radheya
Burmese Migrant Workers in Thailand
A Burmese migrant worker shows the damage to his hands, caused through countless hours of hard labour. His employer is unwilling to pay for medical treatment, which costs 17,000 baht, or around three months' pay.
Image Credit: Rohan Radheya
Burmese Migrant Workers in Thailand
Undocumented and underaged Burmese migrant workers at work in a factory that hires undocumented workers from Myanmar. Because undocumented workers are willing to work cheaply, there is huge demand for them in Thailand.
Image Credit: Rohan Radheya
Burmese Migrant Workers in Thailand
Burmese workers wait in line for a document check at the Thai-Myanmar border checkpoint in Mae Sot, Thailand. An estimated 2 million migrant workers from neighboring Myanmar work in Thailand.
Image Credit: Rohan Radheya
Burmese Migrant Workers in Thailand
Burmese migrant workers in Thailand
Image Credit: Rohan Radheya
Burmese Migrant Workers in Thailand
Undocumented Burmese migrant workers at work in a factory that hires undocumented workers from Myanmar
Image Credit: Rohan Radheya
Burmese Migrant Workers in Thailand
Burmese migrant workers crossing the Moei River which forms the natural border between Thailand and Myanmar. Hundreds of migrant workers cross the Moei river daily to come and work in the Thai bordertowns. There are an estimated 2 million migrant workers from neighboring Myanmar working in Thailand.
Image Credit: Rohan Radheya
Burmese Migrant Workers in Thailand
A Burmese migrant worker and her boss in a playful mood. Migrant workers are often underpaid, and are frequently subjected to hard labour and long working hours.
Image Credit: Rohan Radheya
Burmese Migrant Workers in Thailand
A undocumented Burmese migrant worker at work in a Mae Sot, Thailand factory that hires undocumented workers. Because undocumented workers are often willing to work for far less pay then documented workers there is a huge demand for them in Thailand.
Image Credit: Rohan Radheya
Burmese Migrant Workers in Thailand
A Burmese migrant worker named U Manline who came to Thailand from Meiktila, Myanmar to work in the construction branch in search of a better life. U Manline was asked to repay the costs of his work permit, visa and other legal documents through bonded labor. He did not get paid for months. When he wanted to resign, his employer confiscated his passport and told him to keep working until he had repaid the amount.
Image Credit: Rohan Radheya
Burmese Migrant Workers in Thailand
Burmese migrant workers from Meiktila in Thailand's second city, Chiang Mai. A wealthy city, Chiang Mai is nonetheless home to Burmese slum neighborhoods that are largely inhabited by migrant workers. Shacks made from boxes can accommodate up to four people. The neighborhood is frequently targeted in police crackdowns on undocumented workers
Image Credit: Rohan Radheya
Burmese Migrant Workers in Thailand
Burmese migrant workers at the infamous Mae Sot garbage dump on the Thai-Myanmar border.
Image Credit: Rohan Radheya
Burmese Migrant Workers in Thailand
A Burmese migrant worker named Daw Win Tin, who came to Thailand from Meiktila, Myanmar to work in construction. Like many others, she was forced to work for months in a form of bonded labor.
Image Credit: Rohan Radheya
Burmese Migrant Workers in Thailand
A mobile doctor treating a Burmese migrant worker who has suffered a stroke. Burmese migrant workers rarely have health insurance.
Image Credit: Rohan Radheya
Burmese Migrant Workers in Thailand
A mobile doctor hands out medicine to a Burmese migrant worker, who must pay for the treatment out of pocket.
Image Credit: Rohan Radheya
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