Suu Kyi works with Thai PM on labor and migration woes

A new era in bilateral relations opened last week with the visit of Myanmar State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi to Thailand where she and Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha oversaw the signing of agreements on the vexing issues of migrant labor and border cooperation in an atmosphere of warmth and goodwill.

The three-day visit to Thailand by the Nobel Peace Prize winner was her first since her political party attained leadership in Myanmar through peaceful democratic elections last November. She was greeted with all the pomp and ceremony accorded a visiting head of state.

“Our people want work. They don’t want charity. They want to have the opportunity of standing on their own two feet and feeling proud,” Suu Kyi said during a joint press conference with Prime Minister Prayut at Government House in Bangkok.

The Thai Prime Minister said he and Suu Kyi had achieved “concrete results” on a range of issues including the protection and promotion of the basic rights of Burmese migrant workers in Thailand, a three-year development cooperation framework for border areas, connectivity and economic cooperation.

An estimated 2 million migrants from Myanmar live and work, both legally and illegally in Thailand, and over 100,000 refugees have received safe haven on Thailand’s side of the border for several decades. Migrants from Myanmar are an important source of labor for Thailand, but the undocumented status of many has made them vulnerable to labor abuse and human trafficking.

Suu Kyi met with more than 500 Myanmar migrant laborers in Samut Sakhon on the outskirts of Bangkok, home to several seafood-processing factories, and many told her they longed to return to Myanmar if they could find work there. More than half a century of military rule and isolationism turned the nation formerly known as Burma from a land of great potential to one of the world’s Least Developed Countries, according to the United Nations.

“Of course, what we all want is for people displaced from our country to come back to us,” Suu Kyi said. It was not enough, however, simply to say, “come back”—jobs have to be created for them.’’

“Job creation is of the greatest importance for the country. On every trip I have been on in, people talk about the need for jobs,” she said.

She also discussed the issue of refugees, who she would like to see return to Myanmar in an orderly un-coerced process when they are confident of their own security and peace in the country. The refugees are mostly members of ethnic minorities that fled military offensives. Suu Kyi has been striving to end the decades-old conflicts.

Suu Kyi also met with Minister of Foreign Affairs Don Pramudwinai and delivered a lecture to over 200 Thai and foreign students at the Ministry of Foreign Affairs entitled “Myanmar, ASEAN and the World: The way forward.” Afterwards, she took questions from the students on a broad array of subjects from economic and social issues, to narcotics and the peace process with ethnic minorities.

“I am confident that, because of mutual understanding between us, we will be able to address all the issues and problems of our people in the right way through consultation and through constant contact between decision makers,” Suu Kyi said as her visit drew to a close.