Thailand is also moving to regularise the status of thousands of illegal migrant workers after the Covid-19 outbreak in Samut Sakhon exposed the danger of having such a large undercover and illegal population working in the kingdom. Up to 500,000 are expected to be able to stay for two years.

Over 400 illegal migrants are to be returned to Myanmar following a disturbance at an Immigration Bureau holding facility in the southern province of Ranong on Monday. Many had been held there for up to 5 months. It comes as the Ministry of Labour is moving to regularise the status of up to 500,000 illegal workers in the kingdom by mid-February as a response to lessons learned from the severe Covid-19 virus breakout in Samut Sakhon in December.

Up to 200 soldiers and police had to be called to the scene of an Immigration Bureau holding facility in Ranong on Monday after hundreds of Myanmar illegal migrant detainees escaped their cells and protested at being held there for up to 5 months.

On Thursday, Thailand will begin the process of repatriation of over 400 Myanmar nationals held in a detention centre in Ranong province. This was the scene of a disturbance on Monday after inmates escaped from their cells but could not manage to exit the building because of a steel gate at the bottom of the facility.

It is reported that a force of up to 200 Thai police and soldiers were rushed to the scene but fortunately, the situation was de-escalated after officials held talks with the detainees.

No one injured in the escape bid which turned into a protest by frustrated and stressed inmates

No one was injured in the incident and officials are treating it as a protest by the prisoners being held.

Many are thought to be illegal migrants who have found themselves incarcerated at the Ranong facility for up to 5 months as there are delays and bottlenecks in the repatriation system between Myanmar and the kingdom due to the severe Covid-19 outbreak in the neighbouring country to the west.

During talks with those held on Monday, the inmates expressed their frustration at the delay in being sent back home and explained that they were experiencing severe stress. The men urged Thai officials to contact the Myanmar Embassy in Bangkok and make them aware of their ordeal.

First batch of 160 to be transported to Koh Song island

After this, a plan was formalised to transfer those held to Myanmar authorities on Ko Song island off the coast of Ranong, the first batch of 160 being due on Thursday. 

The Burmese nationals were being held at a 5 story Immigration Bureau facility used for quarantine purposes as well as incarcerating those who had crossed over the border illegally into Thailand and those involved in non-violent criminal offences.

It is understood the facility contained 402 offenders.

Thailand offers legitimacy to illegal migrant workers

At the same time, Thailand is moving to grant legitimacy to illegal migrant workers following the lesson learned by the Samut Sakhon virus outbreak in December.

Officials formed the view that many illegal workers felt they could not seek medical help because of their illegitimate status and fear of prosecution. Many were also being exploited by their employers on this basis.

The issue also impacted later efforts to identify the extent of the outbreak and treat those who were infected or in danger of infection.

Can remain until February 13th 2023

The government has granted an exemption for all such workers to remain in Thailand legally until February 13th 2023 once they register for the scheme. The initiative is being managed by Suchart Pornchaiwiseskul, the Director-general of the Employment Department at the Ministry of Labour.

Already, it is believed that over 200,000 illegal migrants have registered with the department to avail of the regularisation process.

On Tuesday, officials reported that the move may benefit over 500 Myanmar nationals being held in Immigration Bureau detention facilities throughout the country.

Labour Minister is expecting up to 500,000 to apply as officials also allow a 6 month grace period on visas

Minister of Labour, Suchart Chomklin, has said that he expects the final figure by the middle of February will be 500,000 people. The amnesty and legalisation offer extends to illegal workers from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos.

Officials point out that the initiative will also allow authorities to better understand this workforce which could be of significance to the economy. 

Under current plans, after February 2023, those taking up the offer will be required to return home.

Thailand has also announced that workers from these three countries whose visas have expired within the last 6 months can apply for renewal without sanction while a similar extension period will apply to all visas held by such migrant workers given the exceptional circumstances caused by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

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