Myanmar workers prepare a fishing boat in Samut Sakhon in September. The IOM says Thailand needs ways to better protect these migrants from abuse and exploitation.Photo: AFP / Lillian Suwanrumpha
Myanmar workers prepare a fishing boat in Samut Sakhon in September. The IOM says Thailand needs ways to better protect these migrants from abuse and exploitation. Photo: AFP / Lillian Suwanrumpha

People from Myanmar benefit from being able to migrate and work in Thailand but need more protection to reduce their vulnerability to abuse and exploitation, the UN migration agency has said.

The International Organisation for Migration (IOM) gave this warning after conducting a survey between June and August of 4,130 migrant workers – both incoming and returning – at six locations in Mae Sot and Phop Phra in northwestern Tak province on the border with Myanmar.

The survey is part of a year-long assessment to obtain data on the flow of migrants from Myanmar to Thailand using tools and methods to garner primary data called the Displacement Tracking Matrix.

The information collected is expected to help identify migration patterns, common challenges that Myanmar migrants face, and how to better assist the most vulnerable.

Each migrant was asked questions related to socio-demographic and economic profiles, drivers of migration, level of preparedness for migration, vulnerabilities and return intentions. It will shed light on the benefits that Myanmar migrants experience by migrating to Thailand, as well as the challenges they face.

One key takeaway was that almost two-thirds of those returning to Myanmar surveyed reported that working in Thailand has improved their financial situation.

Vulnerabilities, grievances

But findings also indicate vulnerabilities that may expose migrant workers to abuse and exploitation. While 88% of returning migrants confirmed that their expected wage and the actual wage they received matched, half were paid below the minimum wage of 318 Thai baht (US$9.66) per day.

People coming to work in Thailand also tend to underestimate the potential for problems, IOM said. Asked about their expectations at the workplace, only 5% of respondents anticipated facing difficulties. In contrast, 20% of returning migrants reported having faced at least one issue or challenge.

Common grievances cited included delays in payment, withheld wages, long working hours and psychological stress. Less than half of all respondents were able to identify support mechanisms to turn to, such as NGOs or consular officials, in the event that they needed help.

The findings also indicate that movements between the two countries are cyclical. Two-thirds of all respondents said they had previously worked in Thailand, while 41% of returning migrants indicated an intention to migrate to Thailand again.

Myanmar migrant workers also prefer to arrange a job prior to arrival and stay in Thailand for at least one year. The manufacturing, construction, hospitality and food and beverage industries were the most common employment sectors.

While all 77 provinces in Thailand were indicated as locations of employment, Bangkok was the most popular destination for migrants coming into Thailand through crossing points in Mae Sot and Phop Phra. This was followed by Tak, Chonburi, Phuket and Samut Sakhon provinces. Tak is a center for the garment industry, while Chonburi (Pattaya) and Phuket are popular with tourists, and Samut Sakhon is a hub for fish processing.

“This assessment provides us with more information on the Myanmar migrant population in Thailand which can be used by IOM, governments and other actors for improved advocacy and protection, as well as enable the delivery of more targeted assistance,” said Nathalie Hanley, head of IOM Thailand’s Migrant Assistance Unit. “The survey data, for example, clearly identifies the employment sectors least likely to pay salaries equivalent to the minimum wage – agriculture, domestic work and construction.”

Survey to include Cambodian, Lao workers

Surveying is expected to continue in Tak province until mid-December. The data assessment will then be expanded to cover cross-border movements of Cambodian and Lao migrant workers.

The surveys are part of IOM’s Asia Regional Migration Program – a migration management project funded by the US State Department’s Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration.

Insights into the profiles and vulnerabilities of Myanmar migrants to Thailand can be downloaded in English from here.