A sad affair in the South

opinion August 22, 2018 01:00

By The Nation

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Three Myanmar nationals face deportation for voluntarily teaching kids in Pattani. It can’t be allowed to happen

This past week Immigration police in Pattani arrested a tourist and two migrant workers from Myanmar for doing volunteer work at a Buddhist temple in the conflict-ravaged southernmost province. They were teaching elementary subjects to children of migrant workers, who are largely neglected and denied the goods and services to which Thai children are entitled.

 The three have legitimate visas and the two workers have the prerequisite permits. One of the latter is pregnant and her employer gave her time off, which she was putting to noble use at the Laem Nok Monastery in Pattani. Then officials from the Immigration Department, Fourth Army Area, Tourist Police and Labour Ministry Employment Department raided the monastery in Tambon Banna, Muang Pattani. The three from Myanmar were arrested for the teaching work they were doing, despite the fact they were not paid for it. The Migrant Working Group and Human Rights Development Foundation clarified that the three were doing a job reserved for Thais. The migrant workers were “instructed to sign a document, written in Thai, which they did not understand, before receiving a fine of Bt5,000 in lieu of imprisonment,” they said in a statement.

All three were taken on Monday to the Ranong Immigration Centre, from where they’ll be deported, banned for two years from re-entering Thailand to work. Lawyers from the two labour-rights groups have asked a court to review the case.

The Thai authorities should be ashamed of this action. These good-hearted people were working as unpaid volunteers and deserve praise, not deportation. That our labour and security agencies cannot see beyond the narrowest interpretation of the law is disturbing. They have ignored justice, which is the spirit of the law, and overlooked the human element in this case.

This unnecessary and repressive action does not reflect Thais’ understanding of mercy and kindness. If the deportation proceeds, then our moral compass is worryingly askew. Coupled with the supportive testimony of monks at the temple, legitimate passports, visas and work permits should be ample documentation to ensure that such minor transgression by such helpful foreigners is overlooked. But, no – the authorities prefer to throw the book at them.

Is prejudice against Myanmar people or migrant workers a factor in this matter? Would the same fate befall Caucasian foreigners voluntarily teaching underprivileged children at a temple? Rather, Thai citizens would be praising them. Our compassion somehow does not extend to our immediate neighbours to the west, however, no matter how backbreaking the low-paying jobs they’re willing to do for us.

The Laem Nok Monastery has had a learning centre for the children of migrant workers for more than four years. It helps keep the kids, ranging in age from four to 14, from feeling neglected or exploited while their parents are at their labours. The youngsters learn Thai as well as lessons in their own languages. 

Local businesses cover the cost of lunches and materials and the teachers are all unpaid volunteers, including college students. The provincial government is fully aware of the project and the community lends its support. This is a valuable and worthwhile operation.

We must not let the three arrested people be deported in shame. To do so would be to honour the letter of the law and ignore its spirit, its true intent. To do so would be to disrespect our core values as a people and as a nation.

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