Over four million migrants from Cambodia and Myanmar work in Thailand. All three countries belong to the ‘Greater Mekong’ region. Many of these migrant workers do not have valid papers and as a result are vulnerable to merciless exploitation. The pandemic has further exacerbated their plight.
In Thailand there is significant social inequality – 1% of the population controls nearly 67% of wealth. The country’s 10 billionaires have increased their wealth by a tidy 20% over the course of the pandemic. However, a large part of the population is poverty stricken, including in particular workers from neighbouring countries. The economic situation in their countries of origin is usually poor and people live in great need. As a result many people seek work in Thailand.
Many migrant workers have no papers. They are helpless in the face of exploitation and abuse. The conditions are particularly precarious in the country’s open sea fishing sector and in the agricultural sector, for instance on palm oil, rubber, corn and manioc plantations in remote locations. Migrants barely receive the minimum wage; they are forced to work lots of overtime for which they are not paid and they receive few social benefits. Access to healthcare is extremely difficult and, although Thailand depends heavily on migrant workers, laws are harsh.
Covid-19 has caused particular suffering for migrants. They are among the first to lose their jobs. Due to border closures they are often stuck in the border area without means. Sometimes they are even blamed for the spread of the disease.
Life expectancy: Cambodia 69 years, Myanmar 67 years, Thailand 77 years
Average life expectancy in Switzerland: 83.6 years
Literacy rate: Cambodia 81%, Myanmar 76%, Thailand 94%
Literacy rate among adults in Switzerland: 99.9 %
Gini Index: Cambodia 36.6, Myanmar 31, Thailand 36
The Gini Index measures the degree of income inequality: The higher the number, the more inequality. Switzerland: 32.7
In Southeast Asia, Solidar Suisse combats the worst forms of poverty and social injustice. The focus is on those groups that are most at risk of exploitation, either through forced or child labour or particularly dangerous work.
In the Mekong region we cooperate with our partner organisation the Mekong Migration Network and their local member organisations to defend the rights of migrant workers. In Cambodia for example we provide shelter and psychological support to victims of abuse and violence. We also train a network of activists and lawyers who advise and protect migrants seeking help, and raise awareness among the region’s opinion leaders.
Other Solidar partner organisations inform textile workers about their rights, support them in labour conflicts and train them in negotiation skills. The road is rocky, but time and again we can celebrate successes. In 2018, for example, the minimum wage was increased from 153 to 170 US dollars per month. Now it is 192 US dollars.
«We help marginalised and excluded people to organise themselves – from women to minorities to victims – so they have the strength to call for changes and are connected in their vision for a fair world both globally and locally.»