Links revealed between police and migrants on Koh Tao

Links revealed between police and migrants on Koh Tao
Myanmar migrant worker Win, 21, has confessed to the murder of Hannah Witheridge and David Miller, police say.

Out of more than 5,000 migrant workers living and working on Koh Tao, around 2,000 live illegally by paying police Bt500 (S$20) a month to work there.

Those who own or use motorcycles on this tiny island in the Gulf of Thailand, without a rider's licence, pay another Bt500 each month.

Migrants living illegally in Thailand are sometimes issued special cards by police to indicate they pay a monthly fee (ie. bribe). Animal stickers stamped on these cards, carrying their name, photo and name of the Thai employer/s they work for, are changed monthly by the police.

The animal for September is the turtle.

The migrant workers, either living illegally or legally, make up half of Koh Tao's population and the police's racial bias against them is well known.

Soon after the murder of two British tourists on the island on September 15, their attitude was made clear in news reports as they turned first to migrants as the prime suspects. No suspects have since been caught or identified, let alone migrant suspects.

The district chief of Koh Pha-ngan, Thaweesak Inphorme, whose governing authority covers Koh Tao, said there were 3,300 immigrant workers, mostly from Myanmar, registered and working legally on Koh Tao. All those registered pay Bt1,305 each year to benefit from a social security scheme like Thai people.

He said there would not be a crackdown on illegal residents and entry until on-going measures to restore security and immigration on the island were complete.

The kamnan of tambon Koh Tao, Korbchai Saowalak, estimated there were around 1,100 illegal workers staying with friends or in communities with compatriots on the island. This made identification and registration of them difficult, even if a crackdown is made.

Surat Thani provincial military authorities have begun registering all migrant workers for easier management and quick identification in case of similar crimes occurring in the future. Commander Maj-General Theenachat Jinda-ngern gave an order to Army personnel in Fort Vibhavadi Rangsit in Surat to begin registration work after a meeting of tourist business operators and civilian authorities last Friday.

A Myanmar worker, Jor, 50, said he and his family stayed and worked illegally at a boat service company on Koh Tao 10 years ago, and could remit Bt5,000, out of a Bt9,500 salary, to his relatives in their home country every month. He said he would continue working here either legally or illegally.

A helper at a vegetable shop, Mumu, 27, said Myanmar people liked to work in Thailand as they earned more money and could live peacefully. She entered Thailand through Ranong province, and has worked here illegally for nine years. She now earns Bt6,000 a month.

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