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Thursday, November 11, 1999 Published at 10:38 GMT

World: Asia-Pacific

Thai drive against illegal workers

Illegal workers are brought to the border from as far away as Bangkok

By BBC South East Asia correspondent Simon Ingram

Immigration police in Thailand are expelling hundreds of Burmese illegal workers in spite of protests from human rights groups and from the businessmen who employ them.

Each day for the past week more than 1,000 Burmese men, women and children have been packed onto boats and sent back to Burma across the river separating the two countries at the Thai border town of Mae Sot. And the operation shows no sign of flagging.

[ image: Burmese workers waiting to be deported]
Burmese workers waiting to be deported
Some Burmese have fled into the jungle to evade arrest. There have been reports of rape and robbery involving police and soldiers on both sides of the border.

The human rights group Amnesty International says that the repatriations jeopardise the safety of thousands of people who fled persecution in Burma.

"Many with well founded fears of persecution in Burma are at risk of being returned with no opportunity to claim asylum," Amnesty said.

Rounded up and handcuffed

On Thursday morning truck-loads of men, women and children were arriving at the immigration headquarters here in Mae Sot.

Many had been rounded up at nearby factories, others, wearing handcuffs, had been brought in from as far away as Bangkok.

After having their fingerprints taken, the deportees were loaded up again, along with a few bags of possessions, and driven the short distance to the Moei river, where they were put on boats and ferried across to the Burmese side.

Reports of rape and corruption

This latest operation has gone smoothly but previous deportations have been marred by accidents and some reported incidents of violence.

[ image: A group is sent across the river]
A group is sent across the river
Burmese troops sometimes refuse to allow the deportees back into Burma unless they pay a bribe. On another occasion a group of women were reportedly raped by Burmese soldiers - a claim furiously denied in Rangoon.

The Thai government says it wants to expel some 700,000 illegal Burmese and other foreign workers and give their jobs to unemployed Thais.

But many farms and factories in Mae Sot and elsewhere have flourished using cheap imported labour and their owners say the crackdown is driving them to financial ruin.

On Wednesday about 500 employers rallied in Mae Sot to protest against the repatriations.

The vigour of the campaign is explained by the current political tensions between Thailand and Burma.

Rangoon closed its side of the border on 1 October in retaliation for Thailand's failure to detain a group of armed students who briefly seized control of the Burmese embassy in Bangkok.

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