A side of Phuket few tourists see - the Myanmar migrant community offered a vital lifeline

Don’t believe everything you read about the great liberalization of Myanmar underway since 2011. The former hermit state is still politically unstable and the economy has fallen further behind neighboring countries. Meanwhile, the country continues to score dismal marks across most human rights indicators. Civil war and years of military rule have worsened the country’s poverty rates, creating a mass exodus. These elements have contributed to the growing rates of migration to neighboring countries, such as Thailand, where the Myanmar people currently make up 80% of the migrant worker population. The Thai island of Phuket, the popular tourist destination, has become a common destination for Burmese low-skilled migrants seeking work.

According to a local labor manager there are anywhere from 60,000 - 70,000 Burmese migrants who live and work in Phuket. Among this group, women remain the most vulnerable. Due to their precarious legal status in the country, they end up accepting any kind of job and regularly become victims of exploitation.

The Good Shepherd Sisters of Thailand and Myanmar are working to integrate these migrant workers into the Thai society to help them benefit from economic and social policies. Thanks to their cross-border connections, the sisters have launched a new project to address the inadequate living conditions of the Burmese migrant communities in Phuket. And, they are working to bridge the gap in educating the women and children, plus provide them with basic healthcare services and skills training, the essentials to keep them out of violent pattern of human trafficking and exploitative labor practices.

The project, which began in 2013, is multifold and aims to provide basic literacy, nutritional support and education in Thai, Burmese and English for migrant children and adolescents (between 6 and 17 years) so that they can better integrate into Thai society, schools, and for eventual reintegration in their homeland schools. It also provides vocational training and job-seeking support for women migrants, as well as health care assistance. 

The project has already achieved the following:

  • 120 children regularly frequent Burmese and Thai language courses and the results are more than positive;
  • The project’s staff were trained to provide both social and health care services to the migrants;
  • GSS human rights experts are working with professionals to organize training sessions on how to research, monitor and report on human rights both locally and internationally, with a special focus on human trafficking and rights of migrants and laborers in Thailand according to national and international legislation.

Now thanks to additional funding from international donor Misean Cara, the GSS are now working to meet the following goals:

In Myanmar:  

  • Provide training in the areas of migrant rights and human trafficking prevention;
  • Open a migrant rights centre in Yangon to assist prospective migrants and provide them with access to information to organize safe migration;
  • Provide accomodations and education to young girls in need, including victims of human trafficking. 

In Thailand:

  • Assist Burmese migrant workers to acquire documentation that will allow them to access public services in Thailand (passports, work permits, national health cards, birth certificates etc);
  • Provide informal education to 150 Burmese migrant children;
  • Provide literacy classes for 50 women migrants;
  • Provide community-based health care to 1,000 Burmese migrant workers in 5 community areas in Phuket;
  • Create a formal link between the Thai Learning Centre and public schools in Myanmar to assist with students re-entry into the education system on their return to Myanmar.

There is still more work to be done and support from the international donor community is needed to keep this important project going and achieve these goals. To donate directly click here.