Thailand: Aung San Suu Kyi addresses Burmese migrants (VIDEO)


Burmese pro-democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi waves to Burmese migrant workers on a trip to a Burmese migrant community outside of Bangkok May 30, 2012 in Samut Sakhon, Thailand. Aung San Suu Kyi today pledged to help improve the rights of Myanmar nationals living in Thailand.


Paula Bronstein

On the first leg of her first trip abroad in 24 years, Aung San Suu Kyi spoke to Burmese migrant workers in Thailand on Wednesday, offering them encouragement and a promise, according to the Associated Press.

Myanmar's opposition leader and Nobel laureate told the crowd of thousands, "Don't feel down, or weak. History is always changing," in response to many of the signs that said, "We want to go home."

Aung San Suu Kyi said, "Today, I will make you one promise: I will try my best for you."

Suu Kyi arrived in Bangkok on Tuesday, but made her way to Mahachai on Wednesday, home to the largest population of Burmese migrants in Thailand, according to the AP.

She told the ecstatic crowds, "May you be able to return to the country soon."

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Speaking to journalists after the speech, Suu Kyi said, "All of them say one thing -- we want to go back to Burma as soon as possible. That of course is part of our responsibility," according to Agence France Presse.

During her trip, Suu Kyi is expected to meet Thailand's prime minister and attend the World Economic Forum on East Asia.

Suu Kyi's willingness to travel is proof of her faith in the political reforms being enacted in Myanmar, formerly known as Burma, by the quasi-civilian government led by President Thein Sein, said The International Herald Tribune.

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Labor activists estimated that there are around 2 million Burmese migrants in Thailand who send home their earnings to Myanmar, where a third of the population lives below the poverty line, according to the Guardian.

Though Burmese migrant workers make up around 5 to 10 percent of the Thai workforce and contribute as much as 7 percent to the nation's GDP, many are exploited and paid lower wages. Some are trafficked and some have their passports confiscated by their employers, according to the Guardian.

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Here is a segment of  Suu Kyi's speech to Thailand's Burmese migrant workers, courtesy of The Telegraph: