Migrant workers pass the Thai-Myanmar border in an official service truck as they leave Thailand from Mae Sot in Tak province in northern Thailand. Photo: AFP/Ye Aung Thu

Relatives of more than 1,000 migrant workers who have died in Thailand over the past 15 years have been urged to reclaim their remains.

Thailand has millions of workers from surrounding countries such as Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos who do basic work in low-paid sectors such as construction, farming, seafood industries and other factory work.

A Thai official revealed last week that the remains of over 1,000 migrant workers – more than half of them believed to be from Myanmar – have not been claimed.

Migrant workers are regular victims in fatal van collisions in Thailand, partly because the smuggling of unregistered workers is still rife and accidents often occur if van drivers are driving too fast at night, or attempting to evade police.

But a fair proportion of the estimated 600 or more remains suspected to be Burmese includes people who died during the tsunami in December 2004.

More than 8,700 people were killed or went missing after giant waves swamped parts of the Andaman coast. Khao Lak, just north of Phuket, Phi Phi Island and the fishing village of Ban Nam Khen in Phang Nga were all hit particularly hard and these were areas where thousands from Myanmar worked in hotels or fishing.

The official, with the Department of Special Investigation, said the government was prepared to do DNA tests on members of families who believe their relative had died in Thailand.

Nataporn Boonyakon told reporters from Myanmar that families who have lost loved ones can go to the Labour Protection Network in Mahachai, just south of Bangkok, to get help to retrieve ashes or bodies. If the DNA of the body and the family member match, the remains would be given to claimants.

The DNA of the unidentified victims from the tsunami had been tested and that information was stored at the Labor Protection Network.

She said the department would do DNA tests for families looking for missing relatives.

Meanwhile, Cambodia is planning to put a cap on recruitment fees imposed by brokers on people seeking jobs in other countries. The move aims to reduce illegal migration and stop workers ending up as slaves in the fishing sector, sex industry or other difficult circumstances.

Over two million Cambodians are estimated to be working abroad, mostly in Thailand, but those without documents are vulnerable to labor abuses.

Activists say migrant workers from Cambodia have to pay up to $650 to register for work in Thailand, but those who cross the border and work illegally pay a fraction of that amount.

Phnom Penh is reportedly trying to limit the amount that recruitment agents can charge. Similar efforts have been made by Myanmar, which has tried to stop agencies charging job-seekers more than $100.

Thailand has about three million migrant workers but the International Organization for Migration believes there are at least two million more working illegally in the Kingdom.

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