Another sign of Myanmar reform? Aung San Suu Kyi's visit to Thailand.
Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi was welcomed in Thailand on Wednesday by crowds of migrant workers from Myanmar waiting to catch even a glimpse of her.
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Laced with sweat from a hot sun and a heaving crowd, people held aloft posters of Aung San Suu Kyi and of her father, Gen. Aung San, who led Burma's fight for independence from colonial rule from London. Migrant worker women, their faces coated in thanaka paste, a make-up made from tree bark, chanted “We love Daw (Aunt) Suu.Skip to next paragraph
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This group is part of an estimated 2-3 million Myanmar migrants in Thailand, many of whom are undocumented but make up between 5-10 percent of Thailand's work force and often fill in for labor shortages in poorly-paid, back-breaking jobs in fishing, construction, and domestic help.
For decades, economically-stagnant Myanmar offered scant job opportunities for its people, forcing millions to emigrate to Malaysia, Thailand and beyond. However, in an often desperate search for work and money to send home to penniless families, many Myanmar migrant workers in Thailand cross the border without official documentation and end up trafficked into slave-like conditions aboard Thai fishing vessels or in the sex trade.
In between two brief addresses given from a 3rd floor balcony, Aung San Suu Kyi met indoors with NGO workers and trade unionists who assist migrants, and spoke with a group of 30 Myanmar workers now living in Thailand.
One of those who met Aung San Suu Kyi face-to-face was 25 year Nai Lin from Sagaing in Myanmar. Previously employed in a plastic factory earning 6000 Thai baht ($188) per month, he lost his right hand in a work accident in Thailand and now helps a rice-seller by carrying bags of rice for customers.
“I told her about my struggles,” he said, speaking to the Monitor after Aung San Suu Kyi had left Samut Sakhon to return to Bangkok. “At first when I came to Thailand I did not have papers, so the employer would not let me leave the factory.”
San Man, a volunteer with the Human Rights and Development Foundation (HRDF), a Thailand-based NGO that lobbies on behalf of migrants, says that the visit was unprecedented. “I thought I would never get to stand so close to The Lady,” she told the Monitor, using a common nickname for Aung San Suu Kyi. “Before we have only seen her in newspapers and on TV.”
Others had waited at Bangkok's Suvarnabhumi airport on Tuesday night for a brief glimpse of the MP, who paused momentarily for photographers at the airport before speeding to the plush riverside Shangri-La hotel, where she will address the WEF on Friday.
Construction worker Aung Myint Myat says that seeing the famous opposition leader topped all other memories of his 8-year stint in Thailand. “I am looking forward so much to this day,” he says.
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