China-Backed Banana Plantations Linked to Undocumented Labor, Kachin State Govt Says

Chinese tissue culture banana plantation in Waingmaw township, Kachin State, northern Burma

Kachin State authorities say they are having difficulty keeping track of migrant workers coming from China to work in agribusiness initiatives such as tissue culture banana plantations.

The state’s immigration minister, Zaw Win, said that he believes people are using the temporary border passes granted by Burma at the Kambaiti and Loije border gates to then come and work in the country. The documents are valid for 14 days but do not allow the holder to work legally in Burma.

“With the border pass, they are allowed to visit Burma. I have heard that some people are working on banana plantations but they only have border pass documents. For immigration officers, it is very difficult to monitor people on those farms,” he told KNG.

Kachin State has seen many China-backed development initiatives, including mass agriculture projects, the construction of roads and bridges, and hydropower dams in Chipwi and Ta Hkaw Hka (Taping or Dapein) river, in Bhamo. Many of the projects employ laborers from China.

There are currently an estimated 4,000 people in Kachin State holding border passes, and some 2,000 people with temporary labor cards, which are valid for three months.

If workers are found to be working without the necessary documentation, immigration officers can charge them with violating Burma’s immigration act. If convicted, they can be imprisoned for up to six months, fined 500,000 kyats (US$334), and deported.

Many of the foreign investment initiatives approved by the Burmese government have been objected to by Kachin State locals for their negative environmental impacts, violations of land rights, and inappropriate timing due to the ongoing civil war in northern Burma.

The state’s focus continues to be on taking legal measures against the workers in these projects, with Zaw Win saying that the government is planning to form a committee to “take effective action” against undocumented laborers.

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