It’s likely that we’ve all met a migrant worker from Myanmar. Probably working in a restaurant, bar, or hotel — that, at least, is the stereotype. But have we stopped to think about why these migrants are here, what they’d like to do with their lives, and how we could be working with them to build a more united community that benefits all of us?
There are currently around 110,000 displaced people and an estimated three million migrants from Myanmar living in Thailand. This population makes up the largest chunk of the Myanmar diaspora in the world. With its size and social proximity, this group of people offers huge potential for Thailand’s economic and social development.
The term “displaced people” refers to those who have been displaced by years of war, land-related conflicts, or natural disasters (as well as other factors), and who have fled — in this case, from Myanmar to Thailand — seeking safety and security. The 110,000 displaced people in Thailand live in nine temporary shelters along the Thailand-Myanmar border, supported by the Thai authorities until conditions in Myanmar become suitable for their return home. Because they’re not legally permitted to leave the shelters without approval, they rely on organizations like the International Rescue Committee (IRC) for vital humanitarian support in areas such as healthcare, education, and legal protection.
“Migrants,” on the other hand, are those who have crossed into Thailand primarily to escape poverty back home and find better jobs and welfare prospects for them and their families. Migrants live in towns and cities like Bangkok — hence the reason we’ve all met a few. The majority of migrants are vulnerable, particularly since many aren’t registered legally as “migrant workers,” though the Thai authorities have mechanisms in place for them to do so. They often face discrimination, exploitation, and significant restrictions on their basic rights like access to income, education, healthcare, and legal representation.
The IRC, on top of providing ongoing humanitarian support, works with displaced people and registered migrants to help secure their futures through skill training for employment — employment in Thailand, Myanmar, or elsewhere. The IRC has had a presence in Thailand since 1976. At the request of Albert Einstein, it began working globally in 1933. Today, the IRC works in over 40 countries, including those experiencing some of the worst humanitarian crises of our time, like Syria and South Sudan. The situation is different in Myanmar, of course, although it is home to the longest-running civil war in the world, one spanning over 60 years.
But there is hope. Thanks to unprecedented economic development, elections on the horizon, the lifting of sanctions, the surge in foreign investment, and a recent signing of a draft by President Thein Sein and ethnic leaders that agrees to a nationwide ceasefire, now is an exciting time for Myanmar — not to mention for Thailand, which seeks to strengthen its relationship with Myanmar as the ASEAN Economic Community (AEC) begins.
Such developments will lead to an increase in larger scale cross-border trade and activities. They will also bring about more economic collaborations between the two countries, as well as foreign interest in these collaborations. Ultimately, there will be countless more opportunities for the tens of thousands of migrants and displaced people to finally use the education, training, and skills provided by the IRC and other like-minded organizations to gain formal employment – a possibility that was once unattainable. This not only benefits them, but also contributes to the progress of Thailand and Myanmar. Possibility, however, does not guarantee reality.
Hard work lies ahead for migrants and displaced people, as well as for local communities and organizations like the IRC. Those who have been trained by the IRC and partner organizations are highly skilled in languages (English and Thai), computing, accounting and finance, business management, teaching, healthcare, hospitality management, architecture and construction, advanced agricultural practices, and much more. They’re eager, determined, and ready to work, but need to be given
tangible opportunities so that they can create real, sustainable impact on society.
Through the IRC’s “Invest to Excel” project, the organization is looking to partner with private sector companies in Thailand and Myanmar to offer a chance for further professionalized training, employment, and security to the IRC’s beneficiaries. You can help by donating to the IRC, which helps the group reach and train even more migrants and displaced people. So far, only a fraction of the very large population has received training. To realize the potential of the Myanmar in Thailand, the IRC urges us all to unite across sectors, borders, and cultural divides.
The IRC will host an event on July 24 to discuss its work and “Invest to Excel.” For more information about this event and questions concerning partnership or donations to the IRC, please contact Oranutt Narapruet at [email protected] or visit rescue.org.