On 8 October 2016, the Mekong Migration Network (MMN), in collaboration with SEA Junction, launched a photo exhibition and multimedia documentary titled: “Beyond ‘Tolerance’: Living Together with Migrants,” at the Bangkok Art and Culture Centre (BACC) in Thailand.
The event was organized as part of an ongoing MMN collaborative project examining the impact of social exclusion on migrants supported by the Toyota Foundation. For this project, MMN visited Thailand, Japan, Myanmar, and Cambodia to learn from the experiences of migrant workers, migrant returnees, and migrants’ families. The project documented the social exclusion many migrants face including the challenges of reintegrating into society in their home countries upon return.
The opening event in Bangkok was attended by over 40 people, including migrant workers, migrants’ rights advocates, civil society organizations (CSOs), international NGOs, and research and educational institutions.
Following an opening remark by Dr. Rosalia Sciortino, founder and director of SEA Junction (http://seajunction.org/) and Associate Professor at Mahidol University, Mr. Jon Ungphakorn, Executive Director of Internet Law Reform Dialogue (iLaw), gave an impassioned speech about migration from a human rights perspective.
Mr. Joh Ungphakorn elaborated on how:
- The misunderstanding of and discrimination towards migrant workers has become a global phenomena.
- Labour migration policies in Thailand are being developed from a national security point of view and often subject migrants to exploitation, either from their employers, law enforcement or government officials.
- There is still a long way to go before everyone can ‘live together’ given that migrants still lack human security and access to basic rights and justice.
- In order to move forward, Thai society needs to shift its attitude towards migrant workers and recognize migrants as human beings and important social and economic contributors in Thailand.
The English version of MMN’s multimedia documentary was launched following an introduction of the project by Mr. Brahm Press, Director of MAP Foundation and a member of MMN’s Steering Committee. The documentary includes a broad range of photos and videos, captured by the BBC and Channel Four accredited documentary photographer Mr. John Hulme (http://johnhulme.net/), portraying the aspirations and struggles of migrants in Thailand, Japan, Myanmar, and Cambodia. To view the documentary please visit: https://mekongmigration.org/?p=5120.
The audience also heard from Shan women migrant workers and representatives of the Workers Solidarity Association (WSA). Founded in 2007 by Shan migrant workers living in Chiang Mai, WSA is an independent member-based association working towards improving working conditions and promote migrants’rights. The group uses cultural performances to raise interest, awareness and fundraise to support their activities on labour rights.
The WSA representatives shared their personal experiences of social exclusion and inclusion in Thailand:
- One of the major causes of the social exclusion of migrants is that migrants have their own culture which differs from Thai culture and is generally not accepted by Thai society; some members of Thai society are also unhappy or fearful of the prospect of migrants ‘stealing’ jobs.
- “Migrants do not intend to come here and take the jobs that Thai people have. We come here for work. If we are hired, we do that job. Here, we were told to register and buy health insurance – we did that. We don’t want to take from Thai society. If we can pay, we pay.”
- “Government authorities have said that the jobs we have do not require using our brains. But we believe that all kinds of work require skills and knowledge. For example with domestic work, to cook food we need to know how to safely use the gas, and how to use cleaning detergents safely to protect us and our employers.”
- “We feel some social inclusion, but the majority of Thai society does not welcome us. Although we have participated in many social events, we are still invisible to Thai society. We have participated in several social events, such as blood donations on occasion of the King and Queen’s birthdays, World AIDS Day events, and tree planting events. Even though we stay in the village, we always participate in and support community activities.”
- “We would like Thai society to change its attitude towards its neighbours and migrant workers. We would like to demand that members of Thai society open their minds and stop discriminating against people based on their nationality and ethnicity. We would like to demand our civil and political rights as we are part of Thai society.”
- WSA demands that migrant workers should be hired in positions according to their skills and not only in the positions of manual labourer and domestic worker.
- “We demand that migrant workers be treated nicer and as equals. We don’t want to be seen as alien, and be shouted at for not understanding Thai.”
Mr. Brahm Press, Director of MAP Foundation, made a presentation highlighting the key points and recommendations proposed in MMN’s forthcoming advocacy paper, “Permanently Temporary: Examining the Impact of Social Exclusion on Mekong Migrants,” based on research conducted in Thailand, Japan, Myanmar, and Cambodia for this project.
Mr. Brahm Press described Thai policies that perpetuate the social exclusion of migrants:
- Migrant women experience a double burden of gender discrimination on top of nationality-based discrimination. For instance, the Labour Protection Act of 1998, basic labour rights such as minimum wage are provided for all workers in the country, but women receive approximately THB 30-100 less than men when they do the same work.
- Thailand’s social security policies guarantee social protections, and migrants entering Thailand through formalchannels established under the MOU may pay the full contribution to the Social Security Fund, however in practice migrants are frequently unable to access these benefits.
- Moreover, in order to be eligible to receive subsidized government health services, migrants must be documented with a work permit and covered under one of two health insurance systems: Social Security or “Migrant Health Insurance”. Without documentation and health insurance, they will have to pay out of their own pocket.
- While Thailand’s laws do not discriminate against migrants explicitly, there are policies which interfere with migrants’ ability to access full protection under the law. Some policies may obstruct or conflict, while other policies provide little guidance, leaving gaps or selective implementation. The underlying principle of Thailand’s immigration-related policy is that migrants are temporary.
The day’s events culminated with a Shan performance by the migrant workers and members of WSA.
If you were unable to attend Saturday’s event, the photos will continue to be exhibited until 16 October and a public discussion will be held tomorrow, 15 October, at 5:30pm, which will include a talk by documentary photographer Mr. John Hulme. Both the exhibition and talk are being held at SEA Junction (Room 408, Floor 4) at the BACC.
Notes to editors:
For interviews or more information please contact:
- (English language) Rebecca Napier-Moore, Mekong Migration Network Associate, firstname.lastname@example.org, ph +66888936068.
- (English and Thai language) Omsin (Plaii) Boonlert, Mekong Migration Network Research and Advocacy Officer, email@example.com, ph +66869238313.
Following the exhibit in Bangkok, the photos will be displayed in:
- Phnom Penh, Cambodia, 21-23 October at Meta House (German Cambodian Cultural Center). For more information contact Sokchar Mom at firstname.lastname@example.org.
- Yangon, Myanmar, 28-30 October at Myanmar Deitta. For more information contact Thet Thet Aung at email@example.com.
The Mekong Migration Network (MMN) is a sub-regional network of civil society organizations working towards the protection and promotion of migrants’ rights in the Greater Mekong Sub-region, which includes Thailand, Lao PDR, Cambodia, Myanmar, Viet Nam, and southern China.
For more information on migration in the Mekong, go to: www.mekongmigration.org.
SEA Junction (or fully “Southeast Asia Junction”) is a public reading and meeting venue located at the Bangkok Art and Culture Center (BACC) in Bangkok. SEA Junction aims to foster understanding and appreciation of Southeast Asia in all its realities and socio-cultural dimensions – from arts and craft to the economy and development – by enhancing public access to knowledge resources and by promoting exchanges among students, specialists and Southeast Asia lovers (http://seajunction.org/).