Hundreds of people have been swarming the passport issuing office in the Karen State capital on a daily basis, according to a police chief.
He attributed the demand, which increased at the beginning of this year, to a lack of jobs in Myanmar as most of the passport applicants are headed to Thailand or Korea in search of work.
“The migrant workers who have held temporary passports since 2015 are also coming to re-apply for passports. So these three types of applicants [those headed to Thailand, those going to Korea and those seeking to switch from a temporary passport] come each day,” said Police Chief Thant Zin Linn, at the state-level passport issuing office in Hpa-An.
He estimated that the Hpa-An office has received 100 to 300 passport applications on a daily basis starting from the beginning of the year until now. There are also passport issuing offices along the border, in Myawaddy, Tachileik, Kawtaung, and Three Pagodas Pass, he said.
Between two and four million Myanmar migrant workers are estimated to work and live in neighbouring Thailand, providing the low-wage backbone of the economy.
Saw Eh Say, a Myanmar worker employed at a Bangkok factory, said he recently came back to Karen State in order to obtain a new passport.
“According to Thai labor law, we are able to gain full labor rights and benefits only if we are employed legally. The conditions were not good when I went to work there illegally. But I was able to get a pink card [a form of temporary ID], as well as other documents. But even then I had to pay fees to the police, and rented a room secretly,” he said. “Now [with a passport] I do not have to worry so much as the Thai employer takes care of everything.”
He added that he would rather work in his home of Kayin (Karen) State, but there are no factories, and he does not want to try to eke out a living as a farmer.
According to records from Kayin (Karen) State’s Passport Issuance Department, in 2016 it issued over 21,000 passports. Now just shy of three months into 2017, the department has already issued over 16,000 passports.
Translated by Aong Jaeneh
Edited by Laignee Barron for BNI