The government of Laos has repatriated a teenage girl who ran away from her parents at a construction camp in Thailand’s Samut Sakhon province because she was unable to attend school and said she felt unsafe living among other foreign migrant workers, according to NGO officials.
The 13-year-old girl, whose name was withheld because she is a minor, crossed into Laos’s Champassak province on Nov. 9 with the help of Thailand’s Labour Rights Promotion Network (LPN), the Lao Women’s Union of Champassak, and officials from a shelter in Samut Sakhon, where she had been housed for the past six months.
She was escorted to her hometown in Champassak’s Soukkhouma district in accordance with an agreement reached between Thai authorities and the Lao embassy in Bangkok, an LPN official named Samak Tubtanee told RFA’s Lao Service.
The local government in Soukkhouma will provide her with a place to live and study while her parents return to work in Thailand, Tubtanee added.
“I think it is good if the girl can live and study in place where she feels safe,” he said.
“If she is in Laos, she can attend school with the assistance of local civil society groups.”
According to Tubtanee, the girl had run away from the construction camp in Samut Sakhon in early 2017 and was placed in a provincial shelter on May 9 when police discovered her living on the street.
Police later brought her to LPN for assistance in located her parents, he said.
An official at the shelter told RFA that the girl had run away from the construction camp because she was “scared for her safety” while living among other foreign migrant workers, and because she was unable to go to school.
Speaking ahead of the girl’s repatriation to Laos, her father told RFA that he and his wife had taken their daughter with them to Thailand when she was in primary school because “we had no money and no home in Laos,” adding that there was no one to look after her there and no way of paying for her studies.
“I’m very happy for the help we’ve received—thank you to the relevant officials and Lao embassy for taking care of our daughter,” he said.
According to Thailand’s Ministry of Labour, there are around 170,000 Lao workers working legally in the country out of around 2.7 million documented migrant workers—mainly from Myanmar and Cambodia.
While the ministry does not provide figures for undocumented workers from specific countries, it estimates that 2 million migrants are working in Thailand without papers. Reports suggest that more than 200,000 of those illegal migrant workers are from Laos.
Meanwhile, Laos is suffering from a shortage of workers—including skilled workers—but Laotians prefer to work in Thailand because they receive nearly double the pay they get at home.
On June 23, Thailand enacted a royal decree imposing jail terms of up to five years and a fine of up to 100,000 baht (U.S. $2,941) on illegal workers in the country. The decree was suspended following backlash from employers and migrant advocates, but thousands of workers had already fled the country, fearing arrest and deportation.
Thailand has been widely criticized by rights groups for its treatment of migrant workers, who are often exploited by unscrupulous employers and labor brokers.
“Thailand is a source, destination, and transit country for men, women, and children subjected to forced labor and sex trafficking,” the U.S. State Department said in its 2017 Trafficking in Persons Report.
Reported by RFA’s Lao Service. Translated by Ounkeo Souksavanh. Written in English by Joshua Lipes.