Man calls out Myanmar officials charging fake fee to migrant workers coming home for Thingyan

Ko Zwe calls out Myanmar border officials for extorting migrant workers.

Across the world, phone cameras are providing a way for ordinary people to document and expose abuses of power. In Myanmar, recognizing the power a widely shared video can have, one good Samaritan uploaded a video to bring attention to the exploitation of migrant workers crossing the Myawady Bridge from Thailand to Myanmar.

During this Thingyan season, Thailand decided to give Myanmar migrant workers in the kingdom a 25-day holiday and to wave a THB1,000 fee (US$32) fee normally required in previous years, allowing more Myanmar migrant workers to go home for the holiday. However, according to Ko Zwe, who shot video while he was crossing the bridge alongside several migrant workers, this generosity of spirit was not shared by Myanmar officials, whom he witnessed demanding THB100 (US$3.20) from each migrant worker who was coming home for the holiday.

In the video, Ko Zwe says: “These kids don’t know how to cross the border. Instead of helping them, [the officials] just think about demanding money. I’ve helped two people [avoid the fake fee] today. I asked [the officials], ‘Why are you asking for money?’ […] They said that when we first entered, we did it wrong. My response was that if we did it wrong, they should tell us what rule was violated and explain it to us. [After that], they didn’t make us pay.”

Ko Zwe pointed out that in addition to not knowing the procedure for crossing the border, many returning workers are also indigenous people who do not speak Myanmar language, and there is not a single sign instructing people on what to do on the bridge. One young woman who appears in the video said she had been stranded for hours at the border, unsure of how to proceed.

Insisting that he was “not trying to brag about helping,” Ko Zwe said he wants to impress upon people how important it is that “the people in charge need to regulate places like this better…If something happens, please upload it to the internet. That’s the only way the people in power will know about it.”

Ko Zwe’s intervention saved a couple individuals from paying a fake fee, but his video, should it be seen by the right people, could encourage a more institutional solution. Either way, amid all the news of Myanmar people using Facebook to promote violence, it is encouraging to see someone using it to hold the powerful accountable.

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