The Thai government has helped legalize nearly one million previously undocumented labour migrants.
Cooperating with neighbouring Laos, Cambodia and Myanmar – where most migrant labourers come from – the government is working to register an estimated two million migrants. As of 12 May, 932,255 had received proper travel and work documents, according to the Department of Employment – including 812,984 from Myanmar, 62,792 from Laos and 56,479 from Cambodia.
“They come to our country and work in the service sector, agriculture, post-production, and they contribute to our economy. We have to treat them as equal to our own people,” Supat Gukun, who oversees labour affairs in the Ministry of Labour, told IRIN.
The migrants fill out forms verifying their identities, which are checked by their governments. They are then issued passports from their home countries, and visas and work permits from Thailand. Gukun said such documents would help migrants seek medical care, open bank accounts and even send money home to their families.
Thailand’s booming economy has become a magnet for migrants from neighbouring countries. As the most developed country in the region, its per capita GDP is twelve times higher than that of Myanmar ($151). Other neighbors — Cambodia ($270 per capita GDP) and the Lao PDR ($330) — also suffer from acute underdevelopment. Consequently, an estimated two million irregular migrant workers from Myanmar, Cambodia and the Lao PDR are now believed to be present in Thailand.
Many of these migrants are employed in Thailand’s fishery, agricultural, manufacturing, construction and service sectors. Numerous factories have been built in border areas to profit from cheap foreign labour and a historical lack of official labour migration channels has resulted in widespread human trafficking and smuggling.
The profile of these migrants varies widely. Some stay for extended periods in Thailand, particularly the estimated 1.2 million Burmese, who have few prospects in their home country. Others simply stay for seasonal work. Many Lao workers arrive in Thailand in time for the harvest in December and leave after a few months. (Labour Migration)
High levels of irregular migration characterize Asian migration. An estimated 30-40% of total migration flows in the region take place via unregulated channels. To ignore irregular migration in Asia, is to miss out on a large part of the migration phenomenon.
Malaysia and Thailand are the two major destinations for irregular migrants. Between them they host as many as three million undocumented migrants. While various measures have been taken to reduce numbers, there remains a structural dependence on these workers in many sectors including agriculture, construction, and manufacturing.
Trafficking in human beings, particularly women and children, is a major social issue in the GMS. It violates basic human rights and often involves violence and organized crime. The number of people trafficked annually from and within the region is estimated at between 200,000 and 450,000.
Economic and social push factors that feed human trafficking include poverty, disparities in economic development, lack of education and job opportunities, traditional migration patterns and a lack of information in countries of origin about the risk of exploitation associated with irregular migration.
Pull factors include huge demand for cheap labour to work in factories, fishing boats, construction sites, as domestics in family homes, or in prostitution.
The huge profits available to traffickers, coupled with the relatively low risk of prosecution, ensures that human trafficking will continue to flourish unless action is taken to address issues affecting both supply and demand.