Zaw Oo — Circular migration, a possible Thai-Myanmar compact?

When Myanmar in 2014 conducted its first comprehensive census in 30 years, the country was shocked to discover that some millions were missing from the count, which came in at around 51.5 million people. Last year, when I was conducting demographic research surveys in Mon state in southern Myanmar, near the Thai border, I saw another alarming trend: Almost every other household had sent at least one person to live and work in Thailand. This labor migration has significantly affected the Mon region. Agriculture, the mainstay of the economy, is shrinking; manufacturing and food processing factories are struggling for survival; and the social fabric is collapsing with many families torn apart as they seek work elsewhere.

Yet, every youth I came across dreamed of working in Thailand. Most migrant-dependent households are happier with increased income from remittances. The parents are so proud of their young sons and daughters for taking the most challenging journey of their lives, crossing war zones, avoiding traffickers, hiding from immigration and border police, and dodging sex traders before eventually landing jobs that pay three times more than in Myanmar. With their hard-earned remittances, Mon state is now glittering with golden pagodas — a definitive sign that the region is indeed richer than other ethnic states in Myanmar. But does the glitter hide the fact that this state, with its vibrant history and culture, is stuck in a vicious cycle of migration in which generations have had to find work overseas to survive?

 

Source: Nikkei Asian Review

 

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