Aung San Suu Kyi to discuss Burmese workers’ rights on Thailand trip
Myanmar state counsellor expected to press for rights of millions of migrant labourers but sensitive Rohingya issue not on agenda. Rohingya people are considered immigrants from Bangladesh and seen as second class citizens by people in Myanmar.
Aung San Suu Kyi has arrived in Thailand, where she is expected to push for the rights of millions of Burmese migrant workers during her highest profile overseas trip since taking office.
Her three-day visit to the neighbouring country, which has been run by the military following a coup in 2014, is the second trip she has made since becoming Myanmar’s state counsellor, a prime minister-type position she created as she was barred from the presidency.
The Nobel laureate, who is also the foreign minister, visited Laos in May.
Thailand’s giant seafood industry employs more than 100,000 Burmese labourers. But fishing companies have been accused of ignoring workers’ rights and, in many cases, indentured labour.
There are possibly 3 million Myanmar nationals in Thailand, most of them Buddhists, although many are unregistered.
Glaringly absent from Aung San Suu Kyi’s official agenda is any discussion of Myanmar’s minority Muslim Rohingya population, thousands of whom have fled persecution to Thailand only to find themselves entrapped by human traffickers.
Despite widespread international pressure, including from the US, the Burmese leader has refused to use the term “Rohingya” and her government has suggested the 1.1 million people be called the “Muslim community in Rakhine state”.
But the label has been rejected by both Rohingya activists and hardline Buddhists in Myanmar, where Rohingya people are considered immigrants from Bangladesh.
The Thai government has also sought to avoid discussion of abuses against Rohingya. It is currently investigating several officials accused of involvement in the people smuggling trade.
An event at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Thailand on Thursday, where three Rohingya rights activists spoke on a panel, was attended by plainclothed Thai police who said speakers could make brief statements but not answer questions.
Haji Ismail, a Rohingya man who represents the community in Thailand, released a statement at the event which addressed Aung San Suu Kyi directly.
“All our hopes in the leadership of democratic statesmen have faded away,” it said. “Indeed we did not hope for this sort of harsh and negative political stance and undemocratic rhetoric from our Nobel peace laureate.”
The Burmese leader’s trip has been tightly organised to prevent any questions being raised. The official schedule for her joint press conference on Friday with the Thai prime minister, Prayuth Chan-ocha, had “No Q&A” in underlined text.
The National League for Democracy party, led by Aung San Suu Kyi, won a huge victory during elections last year, ending close to half a century of military rule. Critics of the Thai junta, which took over from a civilian government, juxtapose Myanmar’s recent democratic gains against Thailand’s return to army power.
The 71-year-old leader, who spent much of the past two decades under house arrest, was due to visit a temporary shelter in Ratchaburi, west of Bangkok and on the Myanmar border, to meet migrants but the visit was cancelled “due to adverse weather”, the document said.
More than 100,000 Burmese refugees live there, a small proportion of them Rohingya.
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