Posts Tagged ‘migrants’

Libya’s Top Strongmen Meet in Paris With Macron

July 24, 2017

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Libya’s two strongmen: Fayez al-Sarraj meets Khalifa Haftar — File photo from AFP

PARIS (AFP) – Libya’s UN-backed Prime Minister Fayez al-Sarraj will hold talks near Paris on Tuesday with Khalifa Haftar, the powerful military commander based in the country’s east, the French presidency said.

French President Emmanuel Macron will host the meeting, the presidency said in a statement on Monday.

“France intends, through this initiative, to facilitate a political agreement” between the two rivals as the newly appointed UN envoy for Libya, Ghassam Salame, takes office, the statement said.

Tuesday’s talks, which were first reported by France’s Journal du Dimanche newspaper on Sunday, would be the second between Sarraj and Haftar in the space of three months after they met in Abu Dhabi in May.

Sarraj this month laid out a new political roadmap for his violence-wracked country, including the scheduling of presidential and parliamentary elections in March 2018.

Political rivalry and fighting between militias have hampered Libya’s recovery from the chaos that followed the 2011 uprising that toppled and longtime dictator Moamer Kadhafi, who was killed in the aftermath.

Sarraj’s Government of National Accord has been struggling to assert its authority since it began work in Tripoli in March 2016. Haftar’s rival administration based in the remote east has refused to recognise it.

Western intelligence services fear that Islamic State jihadists are capitalising on the chaos to set up bases in Libya as they are chased from their former strongholds in Iraq and Syria.

Libya has also become the main springboard for migrants seeking to reach the European Union by sailing to Italy in often flimsy and overloaded boats.

French Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian told newspaper Le Monde in June that Libya was “a priority” for Macron and said there was “a security risk because of the trafficking of all kinds, including humans” from Libya.

“In consultation with all its partners, France intends to show its support for the efforts to build a political compromise, under the aegis of the United Nations, which unites… all the different Libyan actors,” Monday’s statement from the Elysee Palace said.

“The challenge is to build a state capable of meeting the basic needs of Libyans and endowed with a regular unified army under the authority of the civil power.

“It is necessary for the control of Libyan territory and its borders, to fight terrorist groups and arms and migrant traffickers, but also with a view to a return to a stable institutional life.”


Wrong to have total free flow of people — Singapore, India Forum — “You become a society where people don’t feel it’s their own society”

July 23, 2017

It’s not just wrong politics but also wrong economics, DPM says at a forum in New Delhi

Singapore has been one of the strongest advocates when it comes to the free flow of goods and services, but there must be limits to the movement of people.

Otherwise there will be less push for businesses to be more productive, and “more fundamentally, you become a society where people don’t feel it’s their own society”, said Deputy Prime Minister Tharman Shanmugaratnam yesterday at an economics forum in India.

“This is a reality not just because of (President Donald) Trump in the US or Brexit in UK. It is a reality all over the world,” he said when asked a question about tighter restrictions on Indian professionals moving to Singapore.

Noting that a third of Singapore’s workforce is already made up of foreigners, he added: “It would be mindless to have an open border without any policy framework to govern and constrain the flow of people into your job market. It will not just be wrong politics but wrong economics.”

Mr Tharman, who is in India on a three-day visit ending today, was speaking at the Delhi Economics Conclave held by the Indian Finance Ministry.

Earlier this year, India had expressed concern that curbs on the movement of Indian professionals to Singapore violate the terms of the Comprehensive Economic Cooperation Agreement (Ceca) signed by the two countries in 2005. A review of the agreement to update the terms has been under negotiation for more than six years as India seeks more access for its professionals and banks.

India’s National Association of Software and Services Companies said earlier this year that the movement of Indian software professionals to Singapore has been “reduced to an insignificant trickle” and that it was becoming tough for Indian software firms to operate in the Republic. Its president, Mr R. Chandrashekhar, estimated that there are fewer than 10,000 Indian software workers in Singapore.

The topic of the Ceca review came up yesterday when Mr Tharman called on Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi, who “expressed support for the expeditious conclusion of the Second Ceca Review”, said a statement from the Prime Minister’s Office in Singapore last night.

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H. E. Mr. Tharman Shanmugaratnam, Deputy Prime Minister of Singapore called on Prime Minister Narendra Modi

The two leaders discussed the India-Singapore Strategic Partnership, agreeing that cooperation between the two countries should be deepened in future. A small team of officials from Singapore and India will be formed to explore new areas of cooperation in digital finance, while there is also scope to strengthen air connectivity between the two countries.

Mr Tharman expressed confidence in India’s future despite the complex challenges it faces, including the shift from a labour-intensive economy to one which embraces technology.

The two countries have worked together to set up two vocational skills training centres in India and both Mr Modi and Mr Tharman were hopeful that these could be examples of how skills training in India can be linked closely to jobs.

On Friday, Mr Tharman met India’s Minister of Finance, Defence and Corporate Affairs Arun Jaitley.

They discussed ways to strengthen relations in banking and finance, and encourage Singapore investments in India.

Singapore is India’s top investor for the financial year from May 2015 to end April 2016, investing US$13.7 billion (S$18.7 billion).

Italy Refuses to Be Lectured By European Neighbors Over Migrants

July 22, 2017


© AFP/File | More than 100,000 migrants have crossed the Mediterranean since the start of the year

ROME (AFP) – Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni has warned Rome will not accept either “lessons” or “threats” from neighbours on border security amid tension over Europe’s migrant crisis.”We shall not accept lessons and still less threats such as those we have heard from our neighbours in recent days,” said Gentiloni.

“We are doing our duty and expect the whole of Europe to do the same alongside Italy,” Gentiloni said late Friday in a clear reference to demands by some neighbours that Italy close its borders.

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Italian Prime Minister Paolo Gentiloni

Italy summoned Austria’s ambassador on Tuesday after Vienna threatened to send troops to the border, open as part of Europe’s Schengen passport-free zone, to stop migrants entering after the number crossing the Mediterranean topped 100,000 this year.

Some 2,360 drowned in the attempt, according to the UN’s International Organization for Migration.

Other EU states, including Slovakia, the Czech Republic, Hungary and Poland, have also expressed alarm at the continued arrivals.

Italy has taken in some 85 percent of this year’s arrivals — mostly sub-Saharan Africans crossing from conflict-ravaged Libya — and has pleaded for help from other European Union nations.

But Hungary, Poland and the Czech Republic have flatly refused to take part in a relocation scheme.

Austrian foreign minister Sebastian Kurz on Thursday urged Italy to stop migrants from reaching the mainland by halting ferry services from the islands where they first land, saying “rescue missions in the Mediterranean cannot be seen as a ticket to central Europe.”

Hungary’s Leader: Border Fences Will Stop Muslim Migration — Despises EU-Soros effort to increase Muslim migration — Hungary will remain a place where “Western European Christians will always be able to find security.”

July 22, 2017

BUDAPEST, Hungary — Hungary’s anti-migration prime minister says European Union leaders and Hungarian-American billionaire George Soros are seeking a “new, mixed, Muslimized Europe.”

Speaking Saturday at a cultural festival in Romania, Prime Minister Viktor Orban said that Hungary’s border fences, supported by other Central European countries, are the barriers to the EU-Soros effort to increase Muslim migration.

Orban also said that while Hungary opposed taking in migrants “who could change the country’s cultural identity,” he said that under his leadership Hungary would remain a place where “Western European Christians will always be able to find security.”

Orban said Hungary’s low birth rate made the country an “endangered species,” and that the government was using taxes on multinational companies in Hungary to fund social policies and spur families to have more children.


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Dark blue: EU Schengen members
Light blue: Non-EU Schengen members
Yellow: Obliged to join Schengen eventually
Green: Opt-out from joining Schengen area

See also:

EU leaders to call for revision of Schengen Border Code (From 2015)

Greece still failing unaccompanied migrant minors: HRW

July 20, 2017


© AFP/File | Greece has been accused of wrongly registering migrant minors as adults at its camps in the Aegean

ATHENS (AFP) – Greece is failing to adequately care for many unaccompanied migrant minors, Human Rights Watch said Thursday, citing the case of an island camp where violence has broken out in recent days.

“The misidentification of unaccompanied migrant kids on Lesbos as adults leads to real problems, including lumping them together with unrelated adults and denying them the care they need,” the group said in a statement.

“Greek authorities need to take responsibility for properly identifying unaccompanied children and providing them the protection and care every child needs,” it added.

HRW highlighted the case of the Lesbos camp of Moria — the largest of its kind in the Aegean — where it has found 20 children who said they had been wrongly registered as adults.

Some are as young as 15.

The camp has recently witnessed recurring clashes between police and mainly African migrants facing deportation to Turkey after a long, fruitless wait for asylum.

On Tuesday, some 30 Africans were arrested after allegedly setting fire to tents, cars and other equipment and clashing with police.

In March, Migration Minister Yiannis Mouzalas told the European parliament there was “major hypocrisy” levelled against Greece on the matter, given the stance of other EU states.

The minister said there were some 2,200 lone migrant minors in the country, and complained that EU states had only accepted to relocate just 650 of them.

“What are we supposed to do with the rest of them?” he wondered.

HRW on Thursday said there were over 1,100 unaccompanied migrant children still waiting to be given appropriate shelter.

The UN’s refugee chief Filippo Grandi last month said that Europe’s programme for relocating the influx of migrants to the continent has been a “disappointment,” just as the EU began legal action against three eastern European nations for refusing to take in their share.

By the start of June, fewer than 20,000 of 160,000 refugees had been relocated under the solidarity plan put in place in 2015 to try to remedy Europe’s biggest migration crisis since World War II and ease the burden on frontline states Italy and Greece.

Thailand should leave ‘no stone unturned’ after 62 found guilty of trafficking

July 20, 2017

By Amy Sawitta Lefevre


July 20, 2017

BANGKOK (Reuters) – More needs to be done to ensure that human traffickers are brought to justice and Rohingya migrants are protected, rights groups said on Thursday, after a trial in which 62 people were convicted of crimes including trafficking and murder.

A Bangkok court convicted the 62, including a general, police officers and provincial officials, on Wednesday at the end of Thailand’s biggest ever human-trafficking trial.

The conviction of Lieutenant General Manas Kongpan, pictured in 2015, threatens Thailand’s faith in its armed forces

The conviction of Lieutenant General Manas Kongpan, pictured in 2015, threatens Thailand’s faith in its armed forcesATHIT PERAWONGMETHA/REUTERS

The trial began in 2015 after the discovery of more than 30 bodies in shallow graves near the Malaysian border in what authorities said was a jungle camp where traffickers held migrants hostage until relatives paid ransom for their release.

The discovery led to more than 100 arrests.

Many of the dead were believed to be Rohingya, a persecuted Muslim minority from Myanmar, many of whom seek refuge in mostly Muslim Malaysia. Thailand has not released a full report on the graves or the results of forensic tests.

“The trial and convictions was just the first step,” Sunai Phasuk, senior Thailand researcher at Human Rights Watch, told Reuters.

A mass grave was found in a jungle in Thailand, near the border with Malaysia, in 2015. Hundreds of people are thought to have been imprisoned, tortured and held for ransom there. Credit Damir Sagolj/Reuters

“The government needs to do more beyond this and continue investigations. It should leave no stone unturned.”

The court took more than 12 hours to deliver the verdicts which rights groups said showed the government was serious about the problem.

The convicted included Myanmar nationals.

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Rights groups say trafficking networks were largely left intact despite the 2015 crackdown.  Reuters photo

Thailand has long been a source, destination and transit country for men, women and children smuggled and trafficked from poorer, neighboring countries, including Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, to Thailand or further afield, often to work as laborers and sex workers.The longest jail term was 94 years, for Soe Naing, widely known as Anwar, a Rohingya man who police said was a key figure behind the jungle camp where dozens died.

Last month, the U.S. State Department left Thailand on a Tier 2 Watchlist, just above the lowest ranking of Tier 3, in its annual Trafficking in Persons Report.

The State Department said Thailand did not do enough to tackle human smuggling and trafficking, and did not convict officials “complicit in trafficking crimes”.

Wednesday’s convictions could help lift Thailand out of Tier 2 next year, rights groups said.

‘Massive Operation’

While welcoming the outcome of the trial, rights groups said more needed to be done, both to protect the estimated 5,000 Rohingya in Thailand, and to investigate the smugglers’ camps where many more victims of beatings, disease and starvation are believed to be buried.

Police, troops and security volunteers in 2015 did not search hills surrounding the mass grave site, despite evidence from rights groups and media that other graves were dotted along the border.

“Thai authorities shouldn’t sweep undiscovered mass graves under the rug of this trial,” Amy Smith, executive director of Fortify Rights, said in a statement.

“We documented a massive operation that trafficked tens of thousands of Rohingya during a three-year period. The loss of life was significantly more than the focus of this trial.”

Weerachon Sukondhapatipak, a government spokesman, said Thailand would press on with investigations.

“The government will use the tools at its disposal to solve the trafficking problem,” Weerachon told Reuters.

“We won’t stop at this.”

Myanmar’s treatment of its roughly one million Rohingya has emerged as its most contentious rights issue as it makes a transition from decades of harsh military rule.

The Rohingya are denied citizenship and classified as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh, despite claiming roots in the region that go back centuries, with communities marginalized and occasionally subjected to communal violence.

Many take smugglers’ boast across the Bay of Bengal, hoping to start new lives in Southeast Asia.

Additional reporting by Panarat Thepgumpanat; Editing by Robert Birsel

Rohingya refugees at a camp near Sittwe in Burma. The Muslim minority has suffered widespread violence for the past five years

Rohingya refugees at a camp near Sittwe in Burma. The Muslim minority has suffered widespread violence for the past five years. PAULA BRONSTEIN/GETTY IMAGES


EU eastern states say bloc must show more support for Israel — Netanyahu said, “I think Europe has to decide whether it wants to live and thrive or it wants to shrivel and disappear.”

July 19, 2017


Marton Dunai and Jeffrey Heller.

July 19, 2017

BUDAPEST/JERUSALEM (Reuters) – Europe should better appreciate Israel’s key role in Middle Eastern stability, leaders of four central European nations said on Wednesday in a joint attack with Israeli premier Benjamin Netanyahu on Brussels’ current policy toward the state.

The comments were the latest example of divergence between west and east Europe, where questions of national sovereignty, migration and civic freedoms have also stirred friction. U.S. President Donald Trump lent support this month to Poland, target of criticism by the EU he has disdained, with a visit to Warsaw.

Netanyahu met the Visegrad Four leaders of Hungary, Poland, Slovakia and the Czech Republic, who backed Israel and called for an improvement in the EU’s relations with the state.

“I think Europe has to decide whether it wants to live and thrive or it wants to shrivel and disappear,” Netanyahu told the leaders of the eastern EU states behind closed doors in Budapest.

In an audio recording of the remarks obtained by Reuters, Netanyahu goes on to say: “It’s a joke. But the truth is the truth, both about Europe’s security and Europe’s economic future. And both of these concerns mandate a different policy toward Israel.”

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Israeli Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu, left, listens to Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban during a press conference held after the talks of Netanyahu with heads of government of the Visegrad Group or V4 countries in the Pesti Vigado building in Budapest, Hungary, Wednesday, July19, 2017. Netanyahu is staying on a four-day official visit in Hungary. MTI via AP Balazs Mohai

Israel has often been criticized in Western Europe on matters such as its settlement policy. The recent closeness of Netanyahu with leaders like Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban has been viewed with suspicion in the European Union.

Support in Brussels

Netanyahu asked the four premiers point blank to support his country in Brussels.

“If you, as the Visegrad group, can begin to advance this conception, I think this would be… beneficial to you but I think it would actually be beneficial to all of Europe.”

“We’re part of European civilization. You look at the Middle East – Europe stops in Israel. That’s it.”

At a later press briefing Netanyahu repeated the statements in a more diplomatic language, saying Israel “serves a unique function in being the one Western country in the region, the one country that is able to limit and fight from within the region this great danger to all of us.”

“We’re often criticized by Europe, (more often) than any other place in the world… It’s time to have a reassessment in Europe about the relations with Israel.”

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 Israel’s Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu (2nd L), Visegrad Group (V4) Prime Ministers, Czech Republic’s Bohuslav Sobotka (L), Hungary’s Viktor Orban (C to R), Slovakia’s Robert Fico and Poland’s Beata Szydlo attend a news conference in Budapest, Hungary, July 19, 2017

Hungary’s Orban, himself often accused in Brussels of flouting liberal democratic values such as press freedom, said he and other Visegrad leaders would support better relations between the EU and Israel.

The group will meet in 2018 in Jerusalem at Netanyahu’s invitation.

“The Visegrad Four shares the Israeli view that external border defense is key,” Orban told a press briefing. “Free movement of people without controls raises the risk of terror.”

Orban has been criticized in the EU for erecting a razor wire border fence and refusing to accept migrants under EU agreements, preferring “ethnic homogeneity”.

But he backed down from a recent rhetorical overture toward far-right groups amid accusations of anti-Semitism.

“The EU should appreciate the efforts Israel makes for the (Middle East) region’s stability, which serve Europe as it spares us from newer and newer waves of migration,” he said.

Additional reporting by Robin Emmott in BRUSSELS; editing by Ralph Boulton

Women assaulted, bottles hurled at chaotic German town festival — sexual harassment and alcohol-fuelled weekend disturbances

July 17, 2017


© DPA/AFP | Matthias Klopfer (L), mayor of the southwestern German village of Schorndorf, and Aalen police president Roland Eisele give a press conference on July 17, 2017 in the city hall in Schorndorf to comment on disturbances at a local festival

BERLIN (AFP) – German police said Monday several assaults and cases of sexual harassment were reported in alcohol-fuelled weekend disturbances that saw youths rampage through a small town and hurl bottles at police.

No arrests had been made over the alleged harassment, but police were treating as a suspect a 20-year-old Iraqi man and, in a separate case in which a 17-year-old girl was groped, three Afghan asylum seekers aged 18-20.

Police chief Roland Eisele urged other women to come forward if they were abused on Friday or Saturday night during the chaotic scenes that started at a local festival in the southwestern town of Schorndorf, Baden-Wuerttemberg state.

Eisele said “the aggression and escalation of violence” were unprecedented and unexpected in the town of about 40,000 people, located near Stuttgart, and that the local police force had to request backup from other cities.

Police said in a statement that many youths “with migrant backgrounds” were seen in the crowd, but Eisele said that it was impossible to estimate a percentage.

Officers in riot gear moved into a crowd of about 1,000 Saturday night in the town centre to detain a suspect on charges of dangerous physical assault but came under attack as others hurled bottles at them.

Witnesses had reported small groups of youths, some armed with knives or replica handguns that can fire flares and teargas, roving through the medieval town centre, police said.

Several police cars were sprayed with graffiti or otherwise vandalised in the small town also dubbed “Daimler city” because automotive inventor Gottlieb Daimler was born there in 1834.

In a press conference Monday, Eisele evoked the chaos of Cologne’s infamous 2015 New Year’s Eve celebrations when men of North African and Middle Eastern appearance groped and assaulted hundreds of women, sparking widespread public outrage.

He stressed that the rowdy scenes in Schorndorf were less intense than those in Cologne or the riots in the northern port-city of Hamburg before and during the July 7-8 Group of 20 summit, when far-left and anarchist militants burnt street barricades and threw rocks from rooftops.

Thai fisherman sailing against tide of larger trawlers, dwindling supply

July 15, 2017

In this series on Asia’s toughest jobs, Channel News Asia’s Pichayada Promchertchoo travels to the west coast of Thailand, where artisanal fishermen and big commercial fishing vessels battle for dwindling catches.

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Ake, a fisherman in Thailand’s southern province of Phang Nga, drives his long-tail boat to catch squid in the Andaman Sea. (Photo: Pichayada Promchertchoo)

PHANG NGA, Thailand: High in the sky, the sun is bright and blazing.

Ake is drenched in sweat. His burnt torso is covered in old clothes – wet, dirty and torn. The fisherman is hard at work with his brother-in-law. His bare feet burn as they move back and forth on the wooden deck.

His hands feel stiff as he grabs and hauls the trap overboard. With a hefty sandbag tied to the bottom, it weighs more than 30kg. Inside, the fresh bait dangles – white, fist-sized sacs of squid eggs.

“No squid,” Ake says, hurling the empty trap back into the water and setting off for the next one.

This has been Ake’s life since he was 12. Now 40, he seems older than his age. Decades of back-breaking work have left his skin burnt, rough and wrinkled, his hands hardened with calluses, cracks and scars.

The sea is rough, but full of treasure. Ake, whose full name is Rapin Longdeaw, cannot peer through the depths but he knows exactly where to find it. Thirty metres below the choppy surface, his traps hang above the seabed – 60 cylindrical wooden frames covered in a nylon mesh.

Over the past three decades, the fisherman has done the same thing hundreds of thousands of times, hauling and hurling heavy traps with bare hands. Often in the morning, Ake closes his eyes with pain when he tries to flex the fingers.

“I can’t clench my firsts without soaking them in water first.”

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Decades of hauling and hurling traps have left Ake’s hands with calluses, cracks and scars. (Photo: Pichayada Promchertchoo)

Since he was a teenager, Ake has not stopped working. His day starts in the dark, at 2.30am, when he gets up to prepare his fishing gear. By 5.30am, the fisherman leaves for the open water and stays at sea for 4 to 5 hours, toiling in the burning sun or torrential rain. The only time he gets to rest is when he travels between his traps, a few minutes at a time.

“Fishing is tough and exhausting,” Ake says. His long-tail boat bobs up and down the raging Andaman Sea.

“We have to keep moving the traps. And that’s the hardest part because they’re really heavy.”

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With bare hands, Ake hauls a squid trap in the Andaman Sea. With a sandbag tied to the bottom, it weighs more than 30 kilogrammes. (Photo: Pichayada Promchertchoo)

On the horizon, a faint shadow appears. Ake steers his boat towards the object – a white flag fluttering on a bamboo pole. With a long hook, his brother-in-law pulls it overboard and ties its rope to a turning reel. The nylon thread stretches down to the seafloor and connects the bamboo stick with a buoy, the trap and a big sandbag that keeps it in place.

Underwater, air bubbles start to form, followed by a dark shape shooting upwards. Within seconds, a wooden frame breaks the surface with a loud splash.

“Got it!” Ake shouts, his face lit up with a big smile. After four disappointing stops, luck is on his side.

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A live squid is stuck inside Ake’s trap. (Photo: Pichayada Promchertchoo)

Two big squid squirm inside his trap. Their colour cells dance as the skin muscles expand and contract. Ake puts them in an empty bucket, swings the trap back into the sea and sets off once again.

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A big storm is forecast but the fisherman takes the risk of venturing out for the sake of his family. Whatever he catches today will be sold to a middleman and the money will buy food for his young wife, their seven-month-old son and his elderly parents.

“The storm is coming,” Ake says. “We’ll keep working until it gets too bad.”

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“Seeing him, I don’t feel tired anymore,” Ake says, holding his seven-months-old son in his arms. (Photo: Pichayada Promchertchoo)


Like many residents of the Khuk Khak village, Ake grew up in a family of fishers. He learned the art of fishing at a young age and followed in his father’s footsteps to become a fisherman.

The job was tough for the young boy, but a lack of career options kept him going. After his father retired, he became the sole breadwinner of his family. And if he stops, they will starve.

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Storm clouds gather on the horizon as Ake drives his long-tail boat between traps. It’s the only chance he gets to rest, a few minutes at a time. (Photo: Pichayada Promchertchoo)

At the end of each day, the hard work usually pays off. With a bit of luck, Ake earns about US$60 a day from 10kg of squid, compared to the daily minimum wage of about US$9 in Thailand.

However, seafood stocks are in decline. Growing demand has led to decades of overfishing. Thai Fisheries Department records show that seafood exports are falling – from 2 million tonnes in 2010 to 1.6 million tonnes last year. Although the catches did not exceed the legal limit, the government has adopted measures to reduce the Thai fishing fleet in order to ensure sustainable marine fisheries.

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Thailand exports 1-2 million tonnes of seafood products every year. But as demands in the global market grows, its seafood stocks are in decline. (Photo: Pichayada Promchertchoo)

For small-scale fishers like Ake, work at sea has become even more difficult with the growing presence of big commercial fishing vessels. Currently, more than 10,000 of them ply the Gulf of Thailand and the Andaman Sea, using advanced equipment that can haul in big catches.

“Many big trawlers work all year round. They drag large nets along the seabed. Besides catching nearly all the fish, they also destroy our traps,” he says.

“We’ve asked them to move further away but nothing has changed.”

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“Fishing is tough and exhausting. But I’ll never leave it for anything.” (Photo: Pichayada Promchertchoo)

Known as “lob meuk” in Thai, squid traps only last a few weeks in the sea before being replaced. Even though they survive the trawlers, they often become dirty with algae.

Ake often makes his own traps at home. He can build up to 50 in a week for US$90. But if he can’t find wood, he has to pay US$295 for already-made ones, making it even harder to make ends meet.


In coastal Phang Nga, fishing is one of the most popular career choices. Apart from the small-scale fishers like Ake, the province is also home to a large number of migrant workers drawn by job opportunities. Many of them take up the jobs that Thais don’t want, such as working on commercial fishing vessels.

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Workers repair damaged fish nets while their fishing vessel is moored at Phang Nga’s Tab Lamu pier, a task that sometimes takes days to finish. (Photo: Pichayada Promchertchoo)

Unlike Ake, migrant fishers are often deprived of freedom and subjected to harsher working conditions, lower wages and longer stays at sea.

A shortage of Thai workers and soaring costs have led many operators to source cheap labour from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. According to the Labour Ministry, about 343,000 migrants are working legally in the fishing and seafood processing sectors. Many others in the business are believed to have been illegally trafficked and exploited by employers.

“Attempts to cut labour costs have led to employment of migrant workers, in some cases using deceptive and coercive labour practices,” the International Labour Organization (ILO) said in a recent report.

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Many of migrant workers work in the Thai fishing industry and take up the jobs Thais don’t want. (Photo: Pichayada Promchertchoo)

In 2013 alone, 325 victims of human trafficking were rescued by the Foundation for Education and Development in Phang Nga. More than half of them were Myanmar migrants.

“We work with both victims and eyewitnesses. Some of them were stuck on a fishing boat for 3 to 4 years. Others saw migrant workers killed and thrown into the sea by their employer,” said the foundation’s executive director, Htoo Chit.

For more than a decade, his organisation has been promoting and protecting migrant workers’ rights in Thailand, particularly in the fisheries-dominated south. It has also rescued many hundreds of migrants. One of them is Soe Min Thein.

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Soe Min Thein was trafficked from Dawei in Myanmar into the Thai fishing industry when he was young. (Photo: Pichayada Promchertchoo)

At the age of 12, he was trafficked from Dawei in Myanmar on to a Thai fishing vessel, where he worked for two years without getting paid.

“There was no time to sleep. We had to work all day, even when we were sick. The crew had to use drugs to stay awake,” he told Channel NewsAsia.

Soe Min Thein was one of the 14 Myanmar migrants on board, all males aged between 12 and 30. Those in possession of legal documents could earn US$500 a month and pay occasional visits to the shore, while the boy and six others were forced to work for free. Their tasks included casting and retrieving nets, sorting fish and repairing broken tools.

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“There was no time to sleep. We had to work all day.” (Photo: Pichayada Promchertchoo)

“We got to eat twice a day but had to work nonstop, sometimes starting at midnight. Fishing took about 16 hours a day. But we also sorted fish and fixed the nets, which sometimes took days to finish.”

For two years, the ship stayed at sea and Soe Min Thein was trapped. It was not until the vessel made a short stop at Koh Samui that the boy managed to escape and seek help.


Illegal fishing and labour exploitation are rife in Thailand. In 2015, the country was issued a yellow card by the European Commission – a warning that if the situation doesn’t improve, Thailand could risk facing an EU ban on its seafood exports, worth US$6 billion to US$7 billion each year.

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A shortage of Thai workers willing to work in the fishing industry has led many operators to source cheap labour from Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos. (Photo: Pichayada Promchertchoo)

As a result, the Thai government has employed various measures to win back trust from the international community, updating systems to better control its ports and monitor fishing vessels.

“All these mark departures from the past, and as a result, some on-board practices are changing for the better,” said ILO’s Jason Judd.

“And there is more work ahead.”

Mr Judd said Thailand still needs to close the legal gaps on forced labour and fisheries, and implement systematic law enforcement to protect its workers. Suppliers and buyers should also invest in better conditions, and more organisation is needed among working migrants, he added.

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Migrant workers aboard a commercial fishing vessel leaving for work in the Andaman Sea. (Photo: Pichayada Promchertchoo)

Meanwhile, civil society groups are working hard to lend a hand. The Foundation for Education and Development’s Pre-departure Project provides Myanmar workers with information on working in Thailand before they cross the border in Ranong and Tak. Participants also receive training about labour rights and threats of trafficking and exploitation.

“We also have an FM radio programme for fishermen on the boat. It’s easy to listen with their smartphones or radio,” Htoo Chit explained, adding a telephone hotline is also available for migrants to report any problem they face.

Back in the city of Phang Nga, Soe Min Thein is preparing his return to Myanmar. After his rescue, he found a job in a saw mill. The sea still terrifies him.

“What I want the most is a passport so that I can come back to work in Thailand again.”

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Ake is happy after catching a few squid. (Photo: Pichayada Promchertchoo)

Out at sea, the storm has passed and Ake’s work is done. His catch should get him US$60 but the fisherman has also lost 10 traps worth about the same amount to trawlers.

“I barely got anything today.”

Standing at the rear of his boat, the seasoned fisher is surrounded by the blue Andaman Sea. He feels exhausted but happy to breathe the familiar salty air and listen to the roaring waves. His sunburnt skin feels cool in the monsoon wind.

“I love fishing. I love the sea. And I’ll never leave them for anything.”

Follow Pichayada Promchertchoo on Twitter @PichayadaCNA
Camera operator: Ekkapoom Dachpichai



Quiet Italy hamlets struggle with migrant ‘human warehouses’

July 15, 2017


© AFP / by Ella Ide and Kelly Velasquez | Some locals in the Italian village of Conetta are not happy about the hundreds of migrants housed in a nearby camp, but the local mayor deplores the conditions in which they are held

CONETTA (ITALY) (AFP) – They used to be sleepy hamlets on Italy’s sun-baked Padan Plain. But two years with hundreds of asylum seekers packed into overcrowded centres dubbed “human warehouse” are taking their toll — on both migrants and villagers.

Inside vast white tents erected in a former military zone on the outskirts of the tiny village of Conetta, some 1,400 men from across Africa while away their days, packed onto endless rows of bunks as the temperatures rise.

Many escape for a few hours to cycle around the area: they are met with hostile banners calling for them to leave.

“I used to call this place a modern lager,” Cona mayor Albero Panfilio told AFP, referring to concentration camps. The commune of Cona includes the little village of Conetta.

“After two years this is (still) a place where human beings are squashed in together, with no hope for the future.

“Now I call it a human warehouse. The migrants arrive, they don’t know where to put them, they have a warehouse, they dump them here.” The asylum seekers were treated “like garbage”, he added.

Panfilio says the 190 residents in Conetta have also suffered. Among several protest messages scrawled on sheets and hung up in the village square, one reads simply “Repatriate the migrants”.

– ‘Lots of hostility’ –

Around 10 kilometres away (6.2 miles) in Bagnoli di Sopra, some 700 migrants are crowded into another former military base. There are more barbed wire fences among the endless fields of soybean and corn, and no access to journalists.

Mayor Roberto Milan said the residents there had held sit-ins demanding the migrants be removed, but to no effect.

“The tension is great, there’s a lot of hostility. There are many of them and it’s not possible to create ties (with the local population). That leads to mutual distrust,” he told AFP by telephone.

“They come, they go, they ask for money,” he said.

Moussa Bamba, a 31-year old from the Ivory Coast, said he would “pay a price” for speaking out about conditions inside the Conetta camp, but pleaded for authorities to allow them to use their time profitably.

“I ask for one thing, training: teach us some skills while we wait here. To be a bricklayer, electrician, mechanic. To allow us to integrate if we stay, or return having learned something,” he said.

Over 85,000 people have been brought to safety in Italy so far this year after being rescued in the Mediterranean as they attempt the perilous crossing to Europe. Many are fleeing horrors in crisis-hit Libya.

What has been described as the worst migrant crisis since World War II began in earnest in 2014, when 170,000 people landed in Italy. Europe forced Italy to close its borders in 2015 to prevent people travelling onwards.

Since then, the number of people blocked in the country has risen sharply, along with requests for asylum, which jumped from 63,500 in 2014 to 123,000 in 2016. Those filing the requests can wait up to two years for a result.

In the meantime, humanitarian organisations like the Red Cross warn that the conditions in the reception centres are deteriorating.

– ‘We need you’ –

Guinean Kaba Aissata Mohamed, a 33-year old who worked as a journalist back home, said he and the others inside want nothing more than to be treated like human beings and allowed to join society.

“We need you, we need the local population,” he said. “The local residents should at least be aware of our existence. We want to live with you, with the world outside (the camp), that’s what’s important.

“But here we are hemmed in, we are isolated,” he added.

Italy’s centre-left government has promised to redistribute migrants so small towns do not feel overwhelmed. But so far, little has been done.

“What’s going to happen in the future if they continue to arrive?” asks local Pietro Grapeggia as he watches the young men peddle past on their round-trips to nowhere.

“They are good kids, well behaved, strong, full of energy,” said the 75-year old.

“You see them wasting away their days going around on their bicycles, it doesn’t seem very normal to me.

“And when the government stops paying to look after them, then what will they do?”

by Ella Ide and Kelly Velasquez