Illegal Migration, or entering a country unlawfully, refers to violating laws related to immigration in the destination country. It involves smuggling individuals across borders by third parties or clandestinely entering a country by foreign nationals or those being smuggled. Illegal Migration can lead to various transnational crime problems, including international drug trafficking, violence, and criminal activity. Each year, there are numerous arrests and prosecutions for Illegal Migration, with the majority being citizens of Myanmar, Cambodia, and Laos, respectively. However, individuals from other nationalities also engage in Illegal Migration, such as those from Vietnam, China, Southeast Asia, and Africa.

Within the ASEAN region, the majority of foreign nationals entering Thailand illegally are from Laos, Myanmar, Cambodia, and Vietnam. Most of them enter clandestinely seeking work opportunities, particularly due to significant labor shortages in agriculture and some industries. These foreign nationals find employment and better income opportunities than in their home countries, mainly working as manual laborers in agriculture, services, and industries.

However, the issue of illegal migrant workers entering the country has seen a reduction in severity due to legal measures in place. Examples include the registration of foreign nationals within specified time frames and the importation of foreign labor through Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) signed with neighboring countries, namely Laos, Myanmar, and Cambodia. Additionally, in the year 2017, Thailand issued regulations governing the management of work for foreign nationals, leading to a significant decrease in the number of illegally working foreign nationals.

According to statistics from the Immigration Bureau, between the years 2017 and 2019, there were 289,391 cases of individuals entering the country illegally, with 146,742, 74,740, and 41,909 cases in each respective year. Presently, the majority of individuals entering the country illegally are migrant workers from Myanmar, Laos, and Cambodia. Thailand has a keen interest in managing and addressing this issue, particularly as it involves a significant group that illegally enters from the contiguous border areas and holds importance for the country’s industrial development.

Key reasons for the prevalence of Illegal Migration into the country include:

1. Economic and living challenges in neighboring countries compel their populations to seek employment in Thailand. Thailand’s robust economic development, consistent investment, and continuous job opportunities with higher wages create a conducive environment for sustained employment. This, in turn, provides greater income-generating possibilities to support their families. These factors contribute to the influx of foreign workers seeking better economic prospects and opportunities in Thailand, thereby leading to an increase in Illegal Migration cases.

2. Illegal Migration becomes relatively straightforward due to the natural entry points, providing multiple channels for individuals to enter and exit. Thailand shares land borders with four neighboring countries: Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia, and Malaysia. Moreover, Thailand has coastal borders along the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand. The land borders span a total distance of 5,647 kilometers, with specific details such as:

Thai-Myanmar border: 2,401 kilometers across 10 provinces with 9 crossing points.

Thai-Laos border: 1,810 kilometers across 11 provinces with 19 crossing points.

Thai-Cambodia border: 798 kilometers across 7 provinces.

Thai-Malaysia border: 647 kilometers across 4 provinces.

Additionally, Thailand has extensive coastal borders along the Andaman Sea and the Gulf of Thailand, totaling approximately 3,151 kilometers and covering 23 coastal provinces. The Andaman Sea coastline stretches around 2,039 kilometers, while the Gulf of Thailand coastline extends approximately 1,111 kilometers. The diverse geography and numerous entry points create challenges for Thai authorities in effectively monitoring and controlling illegal entries.

3. Registering as a legal workforce involves intricate, time-consuming, and inflexible processes with high associated costs. The verification of nationality poses challenges, burdening individuals with substantial expenses and limited outreach in public relations. Some governmental criteria do not align with the realities, and the enforcement of laws lacks efficiency. Furthermore, there seems to be a focus on exerting control over labor rather than fostering collaboration between foreign workers and employers.

Comparatively, staying and working illegally appears more feasible, as authorities often show leniency and offer benefits to individuals rather than pursuing stringent measures against employers. This dynamic creates a lack of motivation for both employers and foreign workers to engage with the legal system. Additionally, issues such as barriers to escape, vulnerabilities in entry points, and corruption among relevant authorities contribute to the weakened effectiveness of legal enforcement. Thus, the emphasis should be on developing a system that encourages collaboration and addresses the root causes of illegal migration, rather than solely relying on external pressures.

4. The lack of collaborative and integrated efforts among relevant agencies, including the Immigration Bureau, Border Patrol Police Command, Military Police, Navy, Regional Police, and local administrative officials, hinders the effective functioning of the system. It is crucial for these entities to work closely together. Personnel in governmental departments related to this matter must possess knowledge and skills in preventing and combating Illegal Migration. This includes language proficiency in neighboring countries, understanding the geographical characteristics of each region, and knowledge of passport verification procedures. Additionally, staying abreast of social media technology exploited by wrongdoers for communication is vital, making investigations and tracking more challenging. It is imperative for Thai authorities to develop expertise in these areas to enhance the efficiency of combating Illegal Migration.

For sustainable solutions to address the issue of Illegal Migration into the country, several measures can be implemented:

1. Building Strong Cross-Border Communities: Emphasize the creation of employment and income opportunities for residents along the Thai border with neighboring countries. This approach aims to develop the economic strength of special economic zones, promote cross-border trade within both Thai and neighboring border regions, and enable foreign nationals to find livelihoods within border areas, reducing the need for unlawful entry into city areas in Thailand.

2. Fostering Relationships Between People and Authorities: Cultivate positive relationships between local residents, officials, and law enforcement along border areas. Promote the exchange of information, reporting of incidents/suspicious activities, and the awareness of the risks associated with Illegal Migration. This can help build mutual trust and understanding while highlighting the dangers of Illegal Migration, such as the increased vulnerability to human trafficking.

3. Establishing Comprehensive Databases:  Prepare integrated databases sourced from various agencies for investigating and managing the influx of people into the country unlawfully. Utilize AI for analyzing big data, including closed-circuit television (CCTV) footage tracking suspected individuals at various locations, financial transactions, travel details, and accommodation records. Develop portable passport verification devices to enable field officers to conduct preliminary checks on individuals suspected of Illegal Migration, potentially comparing personal identity information such as fingerprints, iris scans, and photographs.These measures aim to create a collaborative and informed environment, discouraging Illegal Migration while enhancing the ability to detect and address unlawful activities.

4. Clearly Defining Collaboration Guidelines: Establish clear and equitable collaboration guidelines between different levels of government agencies, such as the immigration office, national police, and various other departments like the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Border Patrol Police, and the Thai Armed Forces. Strengthening collaboration between these entities is crucial for effective border control and law enforcement.

5. Simplifying and Reducing the Registration Process: Streamline the legal registration process for foreign workers, making it more flexible and cost-effective. This approach ensures that those in need of labor can afford the registration without resorting to Illegal Migration. By reducing barriers, the likelihood of illegal human trafficking operations taking advantage of loopholes decreases. Balancing the interests of both Thailand, which requires labor, and neighboring countries, whose labor force seeks income to support their families, is essential.

6. Introducing Stricter Penalties for Employers:  Amend laws to impose more severe penalties on employers who hire foreign nationals entering Thailand illegally. This discourages employers from engaging in such practices. Additionally, enhance laws by specifying penalties for individuals involved in organized activities facilitating the Illegal Migration of foreign nationals. Asset seizure measures should also be implemented against offenders.

In conclusion, addressing the issue of Illegal Migration is both a crisis and an opportunity. Effective management and governance can turn these foreign workers into contributors to Thailand’s economy. Properly handled, this situation can lead to economic growth for both Thailand and its neighboring nations, allowing individuals to support their families and enhance their overall well-being.