Migration is contributing to growth, development and stability in Thailand, but to harness its full potential, the South East Asian nation must introduce comprehensive and long term migration policies, according to a joint report launched today.
The Thailand Migration Report 2011 says that despite efforts to control irregular migration, large numbers of irregular migrant workers from neighbouring countries continue to arrive and work in Thailand.
Some two million migrants are currently enrolled at some stage of the country’s complex registration process for migrant workers and an estimated one million migrants and family members are unregistered. Women account for an estimated 45 per cent of the migrant population and children for 11 per cent.
The report, the third of its kind, is a collaborative effort of the UN Thematic Working Group on Migration in Thailand, a group comprised of 12 UN agencies, the World Bank and the International Organization for Migration (IOM).
It provides a comprehensive update of migration statistics, policies and legislation in Thailand and includes chapters that explore the interrelationship between migration and aspects of development including health, the environment, gender, children and education.
The report says that migrants, the majority of them unskilled workers from neighbouring Myanmar, Cambodia and the Lao PDR, have boosted economic development in Thailand, particularly in the sectors in which they concentrated, notably the fishing and frozen food sectors.
But it suggests that greater labour productivity could be achieved with better enforcement of labour standards to cover all workers in Thailand in both the formal and informal sectors, regardless of their nationality.
The report also points to the economic benefits of Thailand’s open economy, which attracts highly skilled workers, with over 100,000 work permits issued to skilled professionals in 2009.
An ASEAN agreement to improve the free flow of skilled labour across the region by 2015 will also benefit the Thailand economy through knowledge transfers, human capital acquisition and increased labour productivity, as well as increased opportunities for Thai professionals to work overseas, it notes.
Some 150,000 Thai workers who to migrate overseas each year also make an important contribution to the Thai economy, in the form of remittances sent home to their families. But the report points to the need for a more comprehensive management of their migration process to ensure them greater protection, particularly overseas.
Addressing the human rights of both Thai workers abroad and migrant workers in Thailand, the report emphasizes that all migrant host countries have an obligation to protect the human rights of migrants from the abuses of employers and state officials.
Irregular migrants in Thailand remain a vulnerable group and can be subject to extortion, arrest, deportation and human trafficking, despite the country’s commitment to human rights as a signatory of major international human rights treaties, it notes.
Access to basic healthcare is an important measure of migrants’ rights and Thailand has made efforts to include regular migrants in the public health system.
But according to the report, the implementation of this inclusion has been hampered by language and cultural barriers, stretched hospital resources, and perceived and real discrimination by employers, hospital staff and the local population.
Migrant workers continue to face barriers to integration in Thailand, including segregated housing on site provided by their employers. Almost 80 per cent of the Thai public believe that migrants commit more crimes than Thais, and nearly 85 per cent believe that irregular migrants should not expect any rights at work, it notes.
The report also addresses the situation of the 95,000 refugees in Thailand’s nine border camps or “temporary shelters for persons fleeing fighting in Myanmar.” It points to the fact that the refugees are totally dependent on external aid, unable to move and should be provided with more job opportunities to become self-sufficient.
According to the report, a comprehensive and coherent migration management strategy is critical to ensuring, firstly, that there is proper coordination across distinct policymaking spheres, and secondly, that migration benefits both the development of Thailand and the migrants themselves.