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Advocates protest detainment of Thai workers




Erica Bajer


Immigrant advocacy groups are upset over the recent detainment of nine Thai migrant workers in Chatham.


Chatham Daily News

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Immigrant advocacy groups are upset over the recent detainment of nine Thai migrant workers in Chatham.

"They were placed in detention and some were shackled," said local resident Derry McKeever, of Friends of Farmworkers.

"They're scared to death and they don't know where they stand."

He said the detainees, who worked at a greenhouse in Lambton County, are currently being held in a detention centre in Toronto awaiting hearings.

"This is not an unusual situation — this immigration raid here in Chatham," McKeever said.

Teri Mailloux, a spokeswoman with the Canadian Border Services Agency (CBSA), confirmed that nine people were arrested on March 11 after an investigation near a Sarnia business "for suspected violations of the Immigration and Refugee Protection Act."

She added: "These arrests were executed with the assistance of the OPP and Chatham-Kent Police."

She wouldn't release details about the incident or the detainees.

"The CBSA does not publicly discuss an individual's nationality or status in Canada," Mailloux said.

Chris Ramsaroop, a spokesman for Toronto-based Justicia for Migrant Workers, said the migrants were arrested because their work permits had expired.

He said the workers have few rights and are only trying to support their families in Thailand.

"Once again the workers are being persecuted, but we are not seeing employers, recruiters and contractors being prosecuted," he said.

Sgt. Gary Conn, of the Chatham-Kent Police Service, refused to release any information about the incident at the request of border services, noting divulging details could prejudice an active investigation.

McKeever said Friends of Farmworkers has been meeting with Thai workers in the Chatham-Kent, Essex and Lambton areas in recent weeks, including some of the detainees.

He said many workers from Thailand come here through the low-skill temporary worker program, which gives them a two-year work permit.

"In many cases, the workers from southeast Asia are here because they've paid an agent, not a government, between $15,000-$20,000," McKeever said.

"Because they owe so much money, some of them attempt to work beyond the two years."

He said these agents also often charge them for help filing for refugee status once they are here.

The workers, who usually don't speak English, are taken advantage of over and over again, McKeever said.

"The exploitation is rife," he said. "Everyone seems to get a piece of these workers."

He said the arrest of the nine workers is an example of what is wrong with the immigration system.

He noted the workers are the ones who suffer when they are found working with an expired permit but nothing happens to the employer.

"There's such a flow of workers that the employers are able to replace them almost immediately," he said.

Advocacy groups are calling on the government to enact legislation to protect workers and make agents and employers more accountable.

"If we are going to have migrant workers, they should have status upon arrival. We have to emphasize the protection of workers over the protection of employers," Ramsaroop said.

He said the use of temporary foreign workers has expanded rapidly in the past decade, and there are an estimated 60,000 in Ontario.


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Agriculture and horticulture workers

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