Developing International and Internal Labour Migration Governance in Myanmar

The people of Myanmar have long used migration as a survival strategy; for safe refuge and for livelihood. Those who have migrated not only support themselves but also try to remit enough money to allow their families and communities to manage.

International migration

Most people from Myanmar migrate spontaneously, using brokers for new or dangerous routes. Since 2009 gradually more channels have opened for migrants to migrate with pre-arranged jobs and with the necessary documents. Nevertheless, the vast majority of migrants from Myanmar continue to be migrants who left the country without going through those channels. During the latest rounds of registrations of undocumented migrants in Thailand, approximately 1.6 million migrants from Myanmar have applied for documents in Thailand, while only around 200,000 have gone through the process from Myanmar (the MOU process).

According to  the 2014 Myanmar Population Census, 70.2 per cent of all  migrants were in Thailand. Smaller but still significant numbers of migrants are working in Malaysia, China and Singapore. Other countries of destination not specified in the Census include South Korea, Japan, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, and the UAE. Regular migration has not as yet been able to guarantee migrants their rights or freedom from exploitation, corruption, extortion and fraudulence.

Myanmar international migrants by destination, 2014 Myanmar population census

Number % of all migrants Male % Female %
All countries 2,021,910 100 1,223,168 61 78,742 39
Thailand 1,418,472 70.2 812,798 57.3 605,674 42.7
Malaysia 303,996 15 245,772 80.8 58,224 19.2
China 92,263 4.6 53,126 57.6 39,137 42.4
Singapore  79,659 3.9 39,078 49 40,581 51

Internal migration

New patterns of internal migration are also developing in response to the major transitions in the country. With the growth of older industrial zones and the development of new Special Economic Zones, there is increased work available in manufacturing in urban centres, drawing young people, especially young women, away from the rural areas. Traditional movements of children, girls into domestic work, boys into tea shops and other manual work, continues although new trends will definitely develop with changes in laws and attitudes to child labour and with the growing need for service workers.

In Myanmar, internal migrants have been shown to be vulnerable to migrating into situations of sub-standard working and living conditions, with a smaller percentage migrating into situations of forced labour and trafficking. The ILO recognises that the vulnerability of internal migrants directly relates to two major factors, one is the recruitment process and the second is the type of work at destination. The sectors which have been identified as most exposing the migrants to situations of forced labour or severe exploitation are mining, fishing, construction and domestic work.

It is therefore a dynamic time to support the development of effective services for potential, current and returned migrants, including access to up to date accurate information, recruitment and job matching services, complaints mechanism, social protection, access to financial services, to vocational skills and accreditation, justice and counselling throughout the migration cycle. It is also a critical time to support the improvement of labour migration governance to ensure that migration is not a goal unto itself, but that migration is a means to a goal. For individuals the goal may be to support the education of their children thereby moving their families out of the cycle of poverty, or to support their families or communities to invest locally for long term local development, or a whole range of goals. For the country, migration can be one means to accelerating the development of the country, providing employment to the unemployed, foreign exchange, increased skills and education and closer ties with countries of destination. Without a long term vision on the part of individuals and the country, migration will be become an ever increasing phenomenon which only provides for today.

ILO labour migration activities

The ILO works with its tripartite constituents, government, overseas employment agencies and labour organizations as well as with Parliamentarians and CSOs to strengthen the legislative and policy framework governing labour migration, to make migration safer and more likely to result in decent work and to increase the long term benefits of migration for migrants and their families, and for the country.
  • Trainings for tripartite constituents in Shan State, Rakhine State, Ayeyawaddy Region, Mandalay Region, Yangon and national Union level, on: International Labour Migration Management; Regulating Recruitment, Internal Migration Governance, Return and Reintegration, Domestic Work.
  • Development of and workshops on Briefing Papers for International Migration on Complaints Mechanisms, Social Protection and Recruitment
  • Development of policy briefs and workshops on Policy Coherence and exploring the inter linkages between migration and development policies.
  • Updating and supporting the implementation of the National Plan of Action on Labour Migration Management
  • Broadening public discussion and debate on issues related to migration.
  • Developing systems to maintain good data records for internal and international migration.
  • Improving the conditions in domestic work in Myanmar through national policies protecting the labour rights of domestic workers and advocating for the ratification of Convention 189.