Myanmar's Foreign Minister and de facto leader Aung San Suu Kyi has arrived in Thailand on a three-day official visit expected to focus on the rights of migrant workers. Thailand is home to between two and three million migrant workers from Myanmar, many of whom perform back-breaking jobs most Thais are unwilling to do. Her visit has prompted renewed calls for better protection of migrant workers, many of whom are undocumented and whom rights groups say are vulnerable to abuse.
It is Ms Suu Kyi's first official visit to Thailand since her party swept historic elections last year, after decades struggling for democracy. Her tightly-controlled schedule allows little interaction with the media, seen by some as a way of avoiding difficult questions about the treatment of Rohingya Muslims, who are held in camps in apartheid-like conditions in Myanmar's west.
She will visit a seafood-processing district south of Bangkok, meeting some of the millions of migrant workers who prop up Thailand's seafood, agriculture, construction and service industries. At least 1.5 million and perhaps as many as 4 million Myanmar citizens live and work in Thailand. Thousands of them are expected to turn out today, to try to catch a glimpse of their widely-revered leader. Many migrants in Mahachai work on fishing boats or in seafood processing plants.
The industry's reputation has been tarnished by instances of human trafficking, forced labour and violence. It will mark the first meeting between the democracy icon and members of the Thai military government that seized power in a bloodless May 2014 coup. The junta has been jittery over Suu Kyi's visit. A press conference in Bangkok on the plight of Myanmar's 1.1 million Muslim Rohingya minority ended abruptly on Thursday after the Thai authorities put pressure on the human rights groups that organised it. Suu Kyi has been criticised overseas, and by some in Myanmar, for saying little about the abuses faced by the Rohingya, who live in apartheid-like conditions and are seen by many Myanmar Buddhists as illegal immigrants from Bangladesh.