This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
The value of a Burmese
Story and Written by Kyaw Thein Kha 29th April, 2009 Yesterday, I met with one of my Burmese friends on-line. Currently, he’s staying in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia and has been there for thirteen years now. I wanted to speak with him about a growing and malevolent underground industry in the region. It is a callous and cruel business that seems unimaginable. I was particularly interested in learning more about the selling prices and costs within this underground market. When I asked my friend, he said that the buying price for the object of trade is RM 300, direct sale is RM 2, 200 and indirect sale is 40, 000 Thai Baht. In this business, we’re not talking about the price of any regular commodity; we’re talking about the monetary value of human beings. In particular, the price for Burmese people in the vast Thai and Malaysian market of human trafficking. My friend is no human traffic broker, but he has become all too familiar with the industry helping and working along side Burmese migrant workers in the region. He’s only a volunteer for those who are being trafficked and often he simply has to use his own money to help the victims that he comes into contact with. He helps Burmese migrant workers who do not have legal status, when they are out of a job, have difficulties with unpaid wages or salary or when they are arrested by the Malaysian police. If an illegal Burmese migrant worker is arrested and ends up in the hands of Thai brokers/traffickers at the Thai-Malay border, then my friend will help them return to Kuala Lumpur if they want to go back. There are three possibilities for migrants caught working illegally and arrested in Malaysia. After being detained, there is a possibility to pay your way out, to be prosecuted in the courts to determine the outcome, or to be detained in Malaysian immigration camp. When a migrant worker is arrested, the police will ask questions in the police station and then they may be prosecuted at the court. Whatever they say may be recorded as proof. If the police want to detain them for more than 14 days, they must apply for permission from the judge in lower court. Once migrants are in lower court, they must contact UNHCR or some social organization to notify them of their prosecution. If they cannot contact UNHCR or any other social organization, then the lower court must try to make contact on their behalf. They are unable to contact the Myanmar Embassy as it never helps Burmese people abroad when facing such problems. At this stage detained migrants must apply for a lawyer and an interpreter if they cannot speak Malay. There are a number of important things for the Burmese migrant detainees to know. First of all they should always explain to the judge why they are here working for their family in Burma, about the difficulties they face in their struggle to survive and about any health problems. It is important for them to understand that the judge and the court are also responsible to protect their rights. If accused of breaking Malaysian immigration law, in any situation, the detainee should never admit or say any words that would show that they are in the wrong. It’s also important to get the case file number and the copy of the charge. The court decides whether the punishment will be imprisonment, money or rattan whipping. When the judge issues the judgment, the detainee can appeal the judgment not to be given rattan whipping. If the detained person is sentenced to prison, the sentence can be anywhere from one month to four months. During those periods, the prison authorities will ask them if they would accept being deported to the Malaysia-Thai border. Often times, when the prisoners do not get enough food and water in the prison and can no longer bear the harassments from the other prisoners (Indonesians and Bengalis) they will agree to be deported to the border. Those who accept deportation to the border are trafficked by the Malaysian police. Those who don’t accept
Page 2 of 5
being deported are detained in the prison for long term, and await UNHCR’s visit to the prisons. In the past, the UNHCR in Kuala Lumpur was allowed to visit the prisons and withdraw the detained migrant workers, but the Malaysian authorities no longer allow the UNHCR to visit the prisons. If a detainee has someone who can come and see them in the prison, then they can eat good food at least once per month.
The History of Burmese Slaves
It was around 1995/96 when Burmese migrant workers began overstaying their work permits. At this time the Malaysian government informed the Burmese regime and offered to negotiate to find a solution to the growing issue of illegal status Burmese migrant workers. However, the Burmese generals refused to negotiate with the Malaysian government. They said that those Burmese who were staying in Malaysia illegally were expatriates from Burma and that they were no longer responsible for them. So, Malaysian authorities began deporting any Burmese who were arrested to Thai-Malaysia border. In 1999/2000, Malaysian police negotiated with Thai authorities to have illegal Burmese workers transferred to Thai authorities. At this time, Thai authorities began deporting the transferred Burmese workers to Ranong, a district close to Burma in southern Thailand. After some conflict between Thai and Malaysian authorities, the Malaysian authorities began deporting the Burmese migrant workers back to the Thai-Malaysia border on the Thai side. In late 2007, Malaysian police began trafficking the deportees to Thai brokers near Thai-Malaysia border. From then on, the industry has been steadily growing. Many detained migrants who are not imprisoned, now end up in the hands of Thai brokers. The latest price I heard of when I last made inquiries on 26th March, 2009, was that the Malaysian police will receive 300 Ringgit for one Burmese person. Burmese brokers, including other tribes from Burma, also work under the Thai brokers. The Thai brokers share some of the money that they earn from human trafficking, to those Burmese and tribe brokers. Once in the hands of the brokers, the Burmese people have two choices. The trafficked victim can choose if they want to go back to Burma, or to Kuala Lumpur. If the victim wants to go back to Burma, the brokers will inform the family or relatives of the victim. And then the family or relatives have to send an equivalent of 22, 000 Thai Baht in exchange of victim. If the victim wants to go back to Kuala Lumpur, they have to contact someone there to do the same. The brokers will help to do this. The brokers will give one of their bank account numbers to the friends of the victim in KL to transfer 2, 200 Ringgit to pay for the victim’s release. Then, the brokers will arrange to send the victim to KL once they receive the desired amount of money. The brokers will give the victim only limited time to decide what they will do. Even if their friends don’t have enough money to buy them from the brokers, they will borrow small amounts of money from different workers who haven’t been arrested and trafficked by Malaysian police. Those who haven’t been arrested are also living in fear of their own precarious legal situations in Malaysia. So, they lend or give some amount of money to help and so that they also can find help if they end up in similar situations in the future. So, they are united and help each other. Even though some Burmese migrant workers don’t get paid well, they still provide what they can to help the victims. The situation is worst in these difficult economic times. With the world financial crisis upon us, many migrant workers have been fired from their jobs. They are finding it more and more difficult to help even their friends (victims). If someone cannot buy the victims from the brokers, then the victim will be trafficked to the hands of rubber plantation owners in Thailand as a slave. The selling price is one Burmese slave for 40, 000 Baht. When the victims have been trafficked into the hands of rubber plantation owners, the owners don’t give any favor to those whom they bought as slaves. Some other Thai workers on rubber plantation don’t like Burmese slaves, because they feel as though they are taking their jobs away from them by providing such a source of cheap or free labour. Often after the owner has bought a slave for 40, 000 Thai Baht, he will fire one regular paid Thai worker from his job. This has created a great source of conflict between Thai and Burmese workers
Page 3 of 5
and has turned deadly in many cases. A bullet or a cheroot in a cup that collects rubber fluid is fatal sign for the rubber plantation workers in Thailand. If a worker sees a bullet or a piece of cheroot in a small cup that is attached to a rubber tree to collect rubber fluid, they must flee the plantation immediately as this is a sign of danger or a warning from the other workers that their life is in danger. Murders of this type usually take place during the overnight shifts. The workers in rubber plantations have to work at 2am or 3 am when the rubber trees produce their fluid and the weather is colder. Rubber fluid doesn’t come out when the sun is shining. In the early morning when there is no light, the workers have to collect rubber fluid, holding a lamp with a faint light in their hands. They have to work in very separate and secluded areas of the plantation. If in the early morning when the light comes, a worker cannot find their partner, there is a grim possibility that they may find the dead body of their mate somewhere in the plantation or on the bank of a brook near the plantation. There was such a crime when I recently visited Na Bon township, in Nakhon Si Thamarat district in south Thailand, where many Burmese migrants work in rubber plantation. During my visit, I stayed with a Burmese migrant worker on the rubber plantation and he told me about the crime. As I described above, if a Burmese slave sees a bullet or a piece of cheroot in the cup at a rubber plantation and doesn’t flee, he’d be killed. However, if they flee the plantation, the plantation owner will kill them anyways. There is no way to choose between two such dismal fates and so that is the end of the life of a Burmese slave’s life.
Same situation, but different value
The following news was published on May 11, 2007 from The New Straits Time newspaper, in Malaysia. When I was staying in Kuala Lumpur, I saw this article and kept it so that I could write this article in the future.
The news said, “Freed Filipina maid Sarah Dematera (right) being received by President Gloria Arroyo at the malacanang presidential palace in Manila yesterday after arriving from Riyadh. Dematera was jailed for 15 years in Saudi Arabia and was sentenced to death after she clubbed to death her lady employer 1992. At that time, Dematera had a four-year old daughter and under Saudi law could not be executed until the child reached the age of 18. Arroyo met with Saudi ruler King Abdullah in May last year and discussed the cases of Filipinos
Page 4 of 5
in Saudi Arabia that facilitated Dematera’s release. The family of the victim agreed to forgive Dematera in exchange for 48 million pesos (RM 3.4 million) as blood money that was raised by the Philippine government and private donors. More than eight million Filipinos work abroad, including about one million in the Middle East. Labour Secretary Arturo Brion said recently that since Arroyo’s visit to Riyadh, more than 1, 000 Filipino workers in Saudi Arabia have been repatriated after fleeing their employers over issues such as violence and sexual abuse – AFP picture.” This story shows the importance of national unity and the spirit of Filipinas who love and help each other and also the importance of a strong leader that works to protect the rights of its citizens. I have compared the value of Dematera, the house maid, and the value of a Burmese slave in the rubber plantation in Thailand. We recognize what the role of a leader in a country is, and what their responsibilities to their people should be and what the rights of their people are. By knowing and realizing those fundamental rights, we will be able to keep our movement for human rights and democracy emerging inside our country, Burma. We must stop the growing industry of human trafficking in Burma, Thailand and Malaysia by working together with international societies. Thanks! Kyaw Thein Kha http://kyawtheinkha-en.blogspot.com (English Version) http://kyawtheinkha.blogspot.com (Burmese Version) Photos by Kyaw Thein Kha
If you see a bullet or a piece of cheroot here, just run!
Burmese migrant workers, working in a mill
Burmese migrant workers, working in a rubber factory
The rules for the Burmese workers
Page 5 of 5
I worked in a rubber factory and had a chance to take those pictures and to write this article. I was supposed to be paid 150 Baht per day, however I worked for ten days and was never paid 1, 500 Baht. The staff cuts 180 Baht every ten from the worker’s pay. The workers are paid in every ten days so, 180 Thai Baht was cut three times per month.
This action might not be possible to undo. Are you sure you want to continue?
We've moved you to where you read on your other device.
Get the full title to continue listening from where you left off, or restart the preview.