International labour migration plays a key role in the South-East Asian context. In Thailand, factors such as an ageing population, a low unemployment rate and continued economic growth have led to a structural demand for migrant labour over the past decades. According to the 2019 UN Thailand Migration Report, "the number of non-Thai residents within the country has increased from an estimated 3.7 million in 2014 to 4.9 million in 2018"(p. XI). This estimate includes approximately 3.9 million migrant workers from Cambodia, the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, Myanmar and Viet Nam.
Out of the total migrant worker population, an estimated 2.3 million individuals come from Myanmar alone, making it the primary country of origin for migrant workers in Thailand. Furthermore, as official statistics do not include the number of undocumented migrants, it is believed that the actual number of migrants living and working in Thailand is higher still.1 To gain a better understanding of the migration patterns and the nature of labour migration flows from Myanmar to Thailand - with a particular focus on any possible vulnerabilities - IOM Thailand’s Migrant Assistance and Counter-Trafficking Unit initiated a survey exercise in January 2020 in Ranong Province, using one of the IOM Displacement Tracking Matrix (DTM) tools - the Flow Monitoring Survey (FMS) component. Flow Monitoring is a tool designed to track movement flows, and the overall situation at key points of origin, transit and destination. It is an optimal tool to provide a more detailed understanding of the migration situation at the Thai-Myanmar border. With special consideration to the experience of migrant workers, IOM aimed to gain a deeper understanding of migrants’ profiles, drivers of migration, level of preparedness for migration, as well as associated vulnerabilities and return intentions. This data collection was part of a larger regional activity undertaken since 2018 across various countries in Southeast Asia. It built upon Flow Monitoring activities established along the Thai-Myanmar border in Tak Province, Thailand, from June 2018 until May 2019 as well as Flow Monitoring activities along the Thai-Cambodia border, from March 2019 until September 2019, and Flow Monitoring activities along the Thai-Lao border, from mid-July to mid-August 2019.
From mid-January to mid-March 2020, a total of 2,013 respondents were surveyed in Ranong Province, of whom 1,962 (943 female) identified as migrant workers. The 1,962 migrant workers were categorized in two different migrant groups. The first group was comprised of incoming migrants, arriving in Thailand prior to starting employment (n=909) and the second group were outgoing migrants, returning to Myanmar after their employment ended (n=1,053). Two different survey tools were designed to capture the most accurate information possible for both target groups. The findings serve to identify migration patterns, as well as common challenges and vulnerabilities, and can be used to better inform policy and programming for the protection and assistance of migrant workers.
Data collected in Ranong Province can also be used to explore differences and similarities with the experiences of Myanmar labour migrants entering Thailand through Tak Province, as well as contribute to further exploring the varying migration patterns and vulnerabilities of labour migrants from Myanmar, Cambodia and Lao People’s Democratic Republic to Thailand.
Finally, as this data was collected prior to the implementation of COVID-19 related restrictions in Thailand, it can also serve as a reliable baseline on the experiences and vulnerabilities of Myanmar labour migrants to Thailand, prior to the economic consequences of the ongoing pandemic.