Echo of the Modern Times Migration

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This story is  first written for Mekong Media’s Voice on http://www.vmekongmedia.com in  September 2010 or 2 months before the  grneral election in Myanmar. The writer, Win Myint Aung talked with migrant workers who returned from Thailand back to Myanmar and some other relevant people. It is interesting to know their view back there compare to Myanmar today where many tourists and investment  are flowing to the country.

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MMV/Myanmar–Kyaik Paran village, which has about 150 households, is 10 miles from
Mawlamyaing and most of the villagers are Mon people. I found a teashop on the roadside when I went into the village by motorbike. Although I expected to hear a Mon song from the teashop, what I heard was Thai music. When I enquired about an address in the village, a villager told me to go forward until I found a KwayTeo shop (noodle shop) and the address I was looking for was just opposite. The fact that KwayTeo, a Thai delicacy, is available in such a place surprised me more. This suggests how much villages like this are related to Thailand.

The village, situated at a place about eight-hours’ drive from Yangon the former capital of Myanmar, is only 4-5 hours distance from Mae Sot on the Thai- Myanmar border. Most of the villagers have never been to Yangon but they have been to Mae Sot or Maha Chai near Bangkok.

A 28-year old Ma Win, who worked six months at Talat Thai (Thai market) where fruits and vegetables are sold, is now taking care of her 65-year old mother and 18-year old sister while teaching a private class. Her three elder sisters and one brother are now working in Thailand. Though she could save at least 100,000 Kyat a month when she worked in Thailand, she does not earn more than 60,000 Kyat from her private teaching. But she chose the teaching job because she can live together with her family, she said.

small business in the village

small business in the village

Bangkok Era

Four or five years after the military staged coup in 1988, tens of thousands of workers from Mon, Karen and Tanintharyi Divisions bordering Thailand migrated to Thailand to work there.

You earn more regular income if you work in Thailand – compared to working on the farm in your village; you can earn more than what you get in your village and there is always job opportunities for every migrant worker, said Ma Win.

“Nearly all new houses in the village have been built with the money saved by working in Thailand. We won’t afford to do that if we work on the farms in our village. You just get rice for your family by working the farm. Some years you get profit and some years you lose. I lost 1.8 million Kyat the year before, for the rice price went down. But we got some rice to eat last year”, she said.

Depending on the paddy prices, there are times when you can make a profit but also times when you make a loss in the farming business. Because you have to work in the mud and water on the farm, some local people no longer want to do farm work after the job opportunities in Thailand emerged. There they can work inside buildings under a roof. Some people even enjoy working at stores because they can even listen to music if they work there, said Ma Win.

With the able bodied villagers from the village gone to Thailand, workers from places 100 – 150 miles away, now come down to the village to work as daily-wage laborers or tenant farmers. A daily-wage laborer earns 1500 Kyat a day and a provision of rice for two meals but a local laborer earns 3000 Kyat a day. People from other areas, where jobs are scarce or wages are lower, migrate to the lower parts of Myanmar – with domestic migrant workers taking the place of those who migrate abroad for work.

This shows two sides of the situation for migrant workers. Because many young people from rural villages are working in Thailand, villages bordering Thailand face the difficulty of not having able-bodied young people when there are chores to be done in the village. In Kyaik Paran village, most migrant workers from the village return on occasions such as the water festival, Kahtina festival (the festival of Buddhists offering robes to monks once a year) or the funeral ceremony of a revered monk from the village monastery, said Ma Win.

But there are also migrant workers who cannot come back as in the case of the Kyaik Paran villagers. Dr. Thein Myint (50), who is running a clinic at “Mukyi” village on the Mawlamyaing-Yangon road remarked with sadness, “No young man is seen when religious festivals such as Kahtina festival is held in the village. There are only old people and children.”

But U Wara Tharmi (32), the abbot Sayadaw of the village, who is revered by the villagers and has influence over the village, views the situation optimistically. He said,” As young people work there, they can support for the village development. The youth from the village form a group and donate cash for the village monastery, pagoda, power-generator and repair of village roads”.

There are regular contacts among the villagers working in Thailand and monthly or yearly fees are collected and provided to the village, he explained.

Young people from the Mukyi village started working in Thailand ten years ago. Although they have to migrate to Thailand because of job scarcity in their village, serving the village to the best of their ability can be viewed as a good thing.

There are cases of young children who cannot go to school because their whole family has to work in Thailand. There are also cases of parents having to stay one or two more years in Thailand to save enough money for the whole family to invest even if their children reach the age for schooling. Some 15 or 16-year old children from the village failed their exams intentionally so that they could go to Thailand with their parents, Ma Win said.

Ko Tin Tun, who started working in Thailand twenty years ago when he was 18 and is working in Thailand on and off these days, said, “I chose livelihood when I had to make a choice between livelihood and education. With my father already dead then and I had no other choice in the sense of business; I had to go to Thailand because the job was there. What I lost is education. When I think now, I wish I had a degree. The reason I came back here is my son has reached the age for school. I don’t want his education affected”.

GHRE Grassroots Human Rights Education & Development NGO has opened a school for children of migrant workers in Takunpar district in Phang Nga Province, where Myanmar migrant workers are living in groups. Only the children of workers whose whole family have migrated can go to the school. The school is not giving formal education because only Thai language, English, Myanmar language and mathematics are taught at the school and it is not connected directly to Thai Education department.

On the other hand, there are many tragic stories of migrant workers.
The cases of migrant workers  – who are trafficked, who are not paid for their  work, who fall into deep debt from travelling and agent costs, and who are arrested by police and deported  – are very common among Myanmar migrant workers.

U Maung Maung Myint from Mawlamyaing office of FXB International, Francois-Xavier Bagnoud Myanmar, who is a trainer on human-trafficking issues said,”When Thailand arrests Myanmar migrant workers and sends them back, the Social Welfare Department of the government has to accept them. The Department keeps the workers for two weeks and educates them. Our organization also has to give talks. According to my experience, 70% of migrant workers experienced both good and bad; 10% experienced only bad things; 20% did not experience bad things. So, we could say 80% of workers have had a bad experience.

part of  lifestyle in Myanmar today

part of lifestyle in Myanmar today

This is a knot that is difficult to untie.

The Myanmar government has tried to stop this flow of migrant workers which has been going on for more than a decade but it has not succeeded. Migrant workers are still leaving the country in groups- despite the danger of trafficking, not getting full pay, and not enjoying protection by Thai labor laws.

Among over 1.3 million migrant workers currently in Thailand, there are over 1,070,000 Myanmar migrant workers, according to the figures released by the Thai government at the beginning of this year. Over 300,000 workers are from Laos and Cambodia.

The Thai government has been arresting and deporting illegal workers to their native countries since last week after the last date for registration of migrant workers expired in February. Hundreds of deported Myanmar workers are entering daily through Myawady on the Thai-Myanmar border, according to news reports.

Officials from the Social Welfare Department urged the workers, who came back under the Thai-Myanmar program to receive illegal workers, not to do the same thing in the future and instead to go legally if they have to.
Workers said they have only the choice of working abroad and asked the officials if they have any means to help them, U Maung Maung Myint said.

“Sometimes I ask children from the village. When asked what they are going to do when they grow up, most of them said they will go and work in Thailand. I can’t guess how the consequence of that trend will change the future of their region”, said Dr. Thein Myint.// (22/09/10)

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Note: 950-1000 Kyatte = 1 USD
30 Kyatte = 1 Baht

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