According to Reiko Harima, Coordinator for the Secretariat of the Mekong Migration Network (MMN), there are at least 3 million migrants currently living in the Greater Mekong Sub-region.
She added that, “GMS is home to more than 240 million people, however, accurate data concerning the number of migrants in the GMS is hard to obtain as many migrants cross borders without any official documentation or record of their journeys.”
Reiko Harima, Coordinator for the Secretariat of the Mekong Migration Network.
Harima made her remarks at the opening of a regional training course on labour migration management in the Greater Mekong Sub-region, at Khon Kaen’s Mekong Institute (MI) on November 10.
MI, together with the MMN, is conducting the workshop with the aim of educating both policy-makers and implementers in government agencies both in correct labour migration management and in cooperation with neighbouring countries.
The three-week course has been sponsored by NZAID, with the Rockefeller Foundation providing financial assistance for curriculum development and action, and will involve the study of all aspects of labour migration management.
Thailand is the major receiving country for migrants in the region, hosting around 2-2.5 million, while Cambodia and Yunnan province in China also host a significant number. Laos, primarily a transit country for migrants to Thailand, is also home to a small number of immigrants from Vietnam and China, although numbers are reportedly increasing as a result of Chinese development projects in Laos.
Reiko stated that migrants in the sub-region cross borders to seek better work or to find safety and refuge. Migrants constitute equal numbers of males and females, with most being of working age, and families will often migrate together.
The immigration status of long term residents in the host country is often difficult to determine. A unique characteristic of cross-border mobility in the sub-region is that ethnic groups residing along the borders are often related to the same ethnic group on the other side of the border. As a result, cross-border travel has long been a part of their daily lives.
As each migrant carries a story with him or her, they also carry a culture, a history and a collective and individual identity. Each migrant works and contributes to both the host country and the country of origin.
Efforts to manage migration of workers in the sub-region are increasing, bringing a new set of challenges such as creating safe migration channels which are accepted by migrants as being the best option, and creating multi-sectoral responses to migrants’ needs such as housing, sanitary issues, education and healthcare.
Individual migration may be temporary, but the collective migrant flow is constant and permanent, requiring long-term planning by relevant authorities. The challenge is the capacity of government departments and the need for increased cooperation between countries in the region.
Key issues on this subject have already been discussed in 2006 and 2007 by the region’s policy-makers, officials from the 6 countries involved and researchers at a series of Mekong Institute forums. Welfare and social issues were discussed, as well as pre-migration issues, return and reintegration, and the needs of ethnic minority groups.
According to Sanda Thant, the Mekong Institute’s Regional Cooperation Department Manager, “(migration) is accepted as having both benefits and cost. Benefits include a source of foreign exchange for the country of origin, the reduction of poverty and unemployment amongst migrant communities and the sharing of skills. Social costs include the possibility of people trafficking, exploitation of labour, legal status vulnerability and multiple forms of discrimination.
“Increased connectivity in the GMS, together with globalisation of the capitalist economy facilities the movement of people in both directions within and outside of the region in the search for a better life,” she said.