On 15 December 2020, the Mekong Migration Network (MMN), a network of Civil Society Organisation (CSOs) jointly advocating for the rights of migrant workers in the Greater Mekong Subregion (GMS), organised a panel discussion at the Foreign Correspondents’ Club Thailand. The multi-stakeholder panel included a representative from the Ministry of Labour of Thailand, civil society representatives from Thailand and Cambodia, and a migrant worker from Myanmar. They presented various perspectives on the policy responses to the pandemic and its impact on migrant workers and their family members. The event begun with a brief introduction by Ms. Pranom Somwong on behalf of MMN, in which she welcomed attendees and introduced the panelists.
On the panel, Mr. Tanadej Panyawiwattanakorn, Labour Specialist from the Department of Employment, Ministry of Labour of Thailand, explained the government’s policies in allowing migrant workers to remain legally in Thailand during the pandemic through various documentation extension processes. He said that the “Thai authorities are ready to coordinate with countries of origin to support migrant workers. However, due to the Covid-19 situation, borders have to stay closed and we are not able to move forward."
The second panelist, Ms. Reiko Harima, MMN Regional Coordinator, presented preliminary findings from MMN’s soon-to-be published collaborative research on migrant decision-making during the pandemic. Ms. Harima set out the complex range of factors that contribute to migrants deciding whether to remain in Thailand or attempt to return to their countries of origin during the current upheaval. These include: “family needs, economic necessity, health concerns, sense of belonging, practical considerations such as the border closures, and future hopes and aspirations”. Ms. Harima concluded by urging policymakers to develop more cohesive policies that take into account migrant perspectives.
Ms. Su Myat Hlaing, a migrant worker from Myanmar currently in Thailand, highlighted the various challenges she has faced amid the pandemic. Having lost her job in a labour dispute shortly before the pandemic hit, she set out how her situation has steadily worsened. She has struggled to find a job, both due to the economic downturn and the fact that she and her colleagues involved in the labour dispute have been blacklisted by employers in the garment sector. She has attempted to find work in other sectors, such as agriculture, but has not been hired as employers prefer to hire male workers. She has so far managed to survive thanks to the provision of food aid from CSOs. Moreover, the documentation extension process has become an added challenge. She said “most workers have to hire brokers to extend their documents. And those who cannot afford it, have no choice but to let their documents expire”. Despite these challenges, she said that she decided to remain in Thailand as there are no opportunities in Myanmar and is hopeful that the employment situation will soon improve as she needs to support her family.
Mr. Sokchar Mom, Executive Director of Legal Support for Children and Women, Cambodia, who took part in the MMN collaborative research, shared his observations on the Cambodian government’s response to assisting its migrant nationals in Thailand and set out the gaps in their approach. While he acknowledged that there had been some support from the Cambodian Embassy in terms of information dissemination, assistance with documentation, and emergency relief to those who are stranded or who face food shortages, Mr. Mom pointed out that their response was far too limited and that there are a large number of Cambodian nationals in Thailand who are at risk of falling into destitution. Reflecting on the policy gaps, Mr. Mom said “from our experience of the pandemic so far, the Cambodian government does not have very clear plans as to how they should respond to assist its migrant population”. He urged the Cambodian government to formulate more cohesive plans to prevent migrants from facing similar issues in future.
Mr. Brahm Press, Executive Director of MAP Foundation, Thailand, presented recommendations based on the MMN collaborative research to which his organisation contributed. Mr. Press called on the Thai government not to leave the migrant population behind in its response to the Covid-19 pandemic, as “many migrants consider Thailand as their ‘home’”. He set out the need to remedy the existing shortcomings in the way the Thai social security system handles benefit claims from migrants, including lengthy and complicated procedures, lack of information in migrant languages, and the blanket exclusion of undocumented migrants, part-time workers, and “large categories of informal workers ineligible for social security”.
Concluding on behalf of MMN, Ms Somwong called on all of the estimated 4 million migrant workers in Thailand to be included in Thailand’s social protection policies. She said “Migrant workers have long been fabric of the society, but have been treated as temporary labourers”. She also said the MMN is looking forward to continued collaboration with the Ministry of Labour to strengthen the rights protection for migrant workers.
The panel discussion ended with a questions and answers session, in which panelists reiterated the urgent need to improve policy cohesion, streamline and simplify documentation processes, and leave no migrant behind from the much-needed support, including free Covid-19 vaccinations when they become available.
ABOUT THE MEKONG MIGRATION NETWORK
Founded in 2003, the Mekong Migration Network (MMN) is a sub-regional network of civil society organisations and research institutes working towards the protection and promotion of the rights of migrants and their families in the Greater Mekong Sub-region. MMN’s areas of joint action include collaborative research, advocacy, capacity building and networking. MMN members operate in both countries of origin and destination, have unique expertise in the field, and are in close contact with migrant workers at a grassroots level. For more information on MMN, please visit MMN’s webpage at: www.mekongmigration.org
For more information about the statement, please contact:
Ms. Reiko Harima, MMN Regional Coordinator (English and Japanese) at: firstname.lastname@example.org
Mr. Brahm Press, Executive Director, MAP Foundation (English and Thai) at: email@example.com
Mr. Sokchar Mom, Executive Director, Legal Support for Children and Women, Cambodia (Khmer and English) at: firstname.lastname@example.org; or on +855 12943767
Ms. Yanin Wongmai, MMN Project Coordinator (Thai and English) at email@example.com; or on +66 (0)860918186
Or call the MMN Secretariat office on + 66 (53) 283259.