Mae Sai, Chiang Rai - A migrant worker originally from Myanmar uses a T-shirt...READ ON
Mae Sai, Chiang Rai - A migrant worker originally from Myanmar uses a T-shirt to cover her head and face as she starts work in a corn plantation. She lives in a nearby community and came to live and work Thailand over 20 years ago. Despite having lived here for much of her adult life, not being born in Thailand means she can’t receive a Thai citizenship and has to live with certain restrictions.
Bangkok - On International Labour Day on May 1, 2022, hundreds of migrant...READ ON
Bangkok - On International Labour Day on May 1, 2022, hundreds of migrant workers from Myanmar take part in a protest march in central Bangkok. They used the event to voice their labour concerns, show their support for imprisoned Aung San Su Kyi and show their opposition to the current military junta in control of Myanmar. With economic migrants from Myanmar coming to work in Thailand since the early 1990's, the Burmese community as they are collectively known despite including many other ethnic groups such as the Karen and Shan, have formed strong alliances, networks and local organisations effectively working and assisting them inside Thailand. Their ability to protest in central Bangkok in such large numbers is a result of that strength.
Mae Sai, Chiang Rai - Women farmers from the Akha ethnic group who live in a...READ ON
Mae Sai, Chiang Rai - Women farmers from the Akha ethnic group who live in a small village on the Thai side of the border, farm land officially across the border on the Myanmar side. The valley and mountains in the distance is Myanmar and whilst their home is in Thailand, some of their close relatives living a few kilometres away in Myanmar have to get permission to visit for family occasions and work. This exemplifies the porous nature of this border that is over 2400km in length.
Chiang Rai - A migrant worker from Myanmar washes dishes in her corrugated...READ ON
Chiang Rai - A migrant worker from Myanmar washes dishes in her corrugated iron house on the outskirts of Chiang Rai city. This small community of around 100 construction workers live in accommodation built by their Thai employer to house them. They are responsible for its upkeep which is difficult on their minimum wage salaries that they receive. Most people here come from the Northern area of Myanmar and once this specific project is completed, will move to live in other areas.
Chiang Rai - Migrant worker Thin Thin Maw, 37, prays at a small Buddhist...READ ON
Chiang Rai - Migrant worker Thin Thin Maw, 37, prays at a small Buddhist shrine inside a construction workers camp on the outskirts of Chiang Rai city. She has lived in Thailand since she was 21 years old coming from a village outside Mandalay in Myanmar’s north. She previously worked in an onion and lighter factory before working on construction sites. Living here with her husband and young child who was born in Thailand she sends approximately US$100 back to her ageing parents every month which is largely spent on medicine for their illnesses.
Phuket Port, Phuket - At dawn migrant workers from Myanmar, overseen by the...READ ON
Phuket Port, Phuket - At dawn migrant workers from Myanmar, overseen by the Thai captain (left) unload fish from a trawler at dawn in Phuket Port. The boat has been at sea. One of the largest fishing ports in the South of Thailand, thousands of fishermen and their families work here, with the men working on the boats and the women either working in post-catch seafood preparation or looking after their children.
Phuket - 9 years ago Dihlaing Oo, 36, from Rakhine State in Southern Myanmar...READ ON
Phuket - 9 years ago Dihlaing Oo, 36, from Rakhine State in Southern Myanmar was sold by a people smuggler to a Thai fishing boat for 8000THB (approx. US$240) to work around the coast of Southern Thailand. Forced to live on the boat, beaten regularly and without receiving any of his salary he was fed drugs and alcohol to keep him working. Eventually he was rescued by a local migrant workers organisation called DISAC which operates in Phuket and who eventually arranged for his return to Myanmar a few days after this photo was taken.
Phuket Port, Phuket - A migrant worker from Myanmar stands on a fishing...READ ON
Phuket Port, Phuket - A migrant worker from Myanmar stands on a fishing trawler in Phuket Harbour at dawn having just returned from days at sea. It is estimated that over 200,000 migrants workers work on Thai fishing boats with their catch largely ending up the other side of the world in United States, Europe and Japan. They regularly spend days or even weeks at sea.
Chiang Rai - A migrant worker from Myanmar takes a shower after a long day of...READ ON
Chiang Rai - A migrant worker from Myanmar takes a shower after a long day of working on a construction site in Chiang Rai. The workers camp is built on the outskirts of Chiang Rai city and is provided by his employer for a low rent. But conditions are basic and being several kilometres outside the city, down a small country road, quite isolated.
Chiang Rai - Every morning the migrant workers from this little community are...READ ON
Chiang Rai - Every morning the migrant workers from this little community are picked up by several trucks at the entrance to their workers camp and taken to work on a construction site in Chiang Rai city. Their camp, built by their employee is located on a remote country road with little access to the city itself. Despite earning on average around US$10 per day, it's still substantially higher than what they could earn inside Myanmar itself.
Mae Lao, Chiang Rai - A Burmese worker leaves his room to start his shift at...READ ON
Mae Lao, Chiang Rai - A Burmese worker leaves his room to start his shift at a Chinese owned ginger factory in Mae Lao District of Chiang Rai. The factory provides the accommodation within the grounds with outsiders have to pass through a security post before they can visit the housing area.
Surat Thani - An area of land being prepared for a new rubber plantation....READ ON
Surat Thani - An area of land being prepared for a new rubber plantation. Thailand is the worlds largest exporter of natural rubber and rubber plantations cover vast areas of the country especially in Southern Thailand. The country exported roughly 5.5 billion U.S. dollars worth of natural rubber in 2021 accounting for 32.7 percent of worldwide sales according to Statista. The majority of rubber tappers are migrant workers from Myanmar.
Surat Thani - Migrant worker Cho Mon Aung, 36, sits in the doorway of the...READ ON
Surat Thani - Migrant worker Cho Mon Aung, 36, sits in the doorway of the house she rents with her husband and is located in the middle of a rubber plantation where works. Her husband came first and once he had established work she joined him. 13 years ago she was smuggled across the border by people smugglers for 8000THB (approx. US$240) and has only recently received an official Thai migrant workers ID card. They now work as a team on the rubber plantation of a Thai land owner.
Surat Thani - Mithae Mar, a migrant worker from Southern Myanmar, cuts rubber...READ ON
Surat Thani - Mithae Mar, a migrant worker from Southern Myanmar, cuts rubber trees at dusk on their bosses plantation. She has lived and worked in Thailand for over 20 years, initially working in the fishing industry in a seafood processing factory before travelling south the the rubber plantations. Her and her husband receive 45% of all sales from the rubber they collect, with the plantations Thai owner receiving 55%. Responsible for acres of rubber trees the work is exhausting and living in a wooden shack on the edge of the plantation leaves them isolated and far from the nearest town.
Phuket Port, Phuket - Migrant workers separate the catch and cover the fish...READ ON
Phuket Port, Phuket - Migrant workers separate the catch and cover the fish with ice, ready for shipping at Phuket Port. Thailand earns approximately US$6 billion a year from a seafood industry that runs on migrant labour, mostly from Myanmar. Work starts before dawn and finishes when the last trawler has returned but they are able to make three-times the amount they would be able to in Myanmar.
Phuket Port, Phuket - An undocumented and heavily pregnant migrant worker...READ ON
Phuket Port, Phuket - An undocumented and heavily pregnant migrant worker sits in a temporary shelter after she was evicted from a house where she was staying by the landlord. She was assisted by a local migrant support network to find a safe house until she could find new accommodation. The woman (name withheld on request) was smuggled in to Thailand 8 months ago with her husband and is 8 months pregnant. She has never worked in Thailand and doesn't speak the language and admitted that she just wants to return to Myanmar but can't for economic reasons.
Mae Sai, Chiang Rai - A father and son walk through a corn field they have...READ ON
Mae Sai, Chiang Rai - A father and son walk through a corn field they have just harvested and then burnt, looking for any remaining cobs not collected. Ethnic Shan, they are originally from Shan State in Myanmar and moved to live in Thailand over 20 years ago being allowed to settle and farm in this area, only a few kilometres from the border. For the son (centre) life is frustrating because he has lived in Thailand since a small child, attended a Thai school and speaks the language like a local. But he is still unable to receive Thai citizenship and remains classed as a migrant in a country he calls home.
Surat Thani - Pyone Mg Mg, 29, collects palm fruit that was cut down from a...READ ON
Surat Thani - Pyone Mg Mg, 29, collects palm fruit that was cut down from a tree in a palm oil plantation in Surat Thani province of Southern Thailand. He has been in Thailand for 8 years paying an agent 18,000THB (US$540) to be smuggled across the border in the north of Thailand. Once he was dropped off at the border, he walked across and then spent 3 days travelling by pickup with 9 other people all sitting on top of each other to get to his sister in Southern Thailand, hiding during the day by sleeping in forests and only travelling at night. Palm cutters work from morning until dusk and are paid per kilo which amounts to approximately 500THB (US$15) per day.
Surat Thani - Mithae Mar, a rubber tapper, sits outside her small wooden...READ ON
Surat Thani - Mithae Mar, a rubber tapper, sits outside her small wooden house in the late afternoon. Once dark she will go to work in the surrounding rubber plantation with her husband and won't finish until morning. She has lived in Thailand since 1998 and both her children, one living in Bangkok and another back in Myanmar were born in Thailand.
Surat Thani - Win Hlaing, 43, hangs recently prepared sheets of latex to dry...READ ON
Surat Thani - Win Hlaing, 43, hangs recently prepared sheets of latex to dry outside their house located in the middle of a rubber plantation. These sheets will be sold to the factory by the owner of the rubber plantation and they will receive a percentage. He was first smuggled across the border by boat in 2000 for 5000THB (US$150) and has worked in rubber plantations in Southern Thailand since 2000.
Phuket - Migrant workers sort recently caught fish at Phuket Port as the...READ ON
Phuket - Migrant workers sort recently caught fish at Phuket Port as the trawlers begin to return from days, sometimes weeks, at sea. The entire industry is estimated to employ more than 800,000 people including food-processing workers. It is the world’s third-largest seafood exporter and the world’s leading exporter of shrimp. The industry came under fire in the E.U. in 2014 due to reports uncovering widespread forced labor, worker abuses and environmental degradation in the industry. Whilst improvements have been made the industry is still watched by observers.
Phuket - Yang Niang, 35, from Myanmar lies very sick in his one room...READ ON
Phuket - Yang Niang, 35, from Myanmar lies very sick in his one room accommodation close to Phuket Port. He was brought by a broker to Thailand 3 years ago to work on the squid boats, which he did until 4 months ago when he became too sick to work. Suffering from Toxoplasmosis complicated by HIV he is being assisted by a local migrant workers support network to help him return home. This is the day prior to his return to Myanmar.
Phuket - Two children of Burmese migrant workers play outside where they live...READ ON
Phuket - Two children of Burmese migrant workers play outside where they live close to Phuket Port. Their fathers work on the trawler boats and can be away for weeks at a time. Their mothers do odd jobs such as collecting plastic bottles to sell for recycling and look after them whilst the fathers are at sea.
Phuket - A women from Myanmar sits outside her one-room house in an area...READ ON
Phuket - A women from Myanmar sits outside her one-room house in an area close to Phuket Port. With all the men working at sea, sometimes for weeks at a time, only women are left to take care of their young children and look after the living areas.
Mae Lao, Chiang Rai - Burmese migrant worker Myo Myo Mar puts on face cream...READ ON
Mae Lao, Chiang Rai - Burmese migrant worker Myo Myo Mar puts on face cream before her shift at a Chinese owned ginger factory. The accommodation is provided by the factory which is only a few meters away. She lives in this one room with her husband and their young child. Having heard of heard bad stories of migrant workers in rubber plantations and the fishing industry they decided to stay in the north and work in a factory. Back in Myanmar almost her entire village lives and works in Thailand leaving only the old and very young. Her husband vowed to stay until they are old and have made enough money to return and retire but only if politics will improve “As long as the army remains in power most people will stay in Thailand and work.” her husband says.
Mae Lao, Chiang Rai - A factory worker from Myanmar walks to work which is...READ ON
Mae Lao, Chiang Rai - A factory worker from Myanmar walks to work which is located next to their accommodation for the first shift of the day. The workers camp is located on the premises of this Chinese owned ginger factory in Mae Lao District of Chiang Rai.
Mae Sai, Chiang Rai - Migrant workers from Myanmar harvest corn in a...READ ON
Mae Sai, Chiang Rai - Migrant workers from Myanmar harvest corn in a plantation owned by a Thai company. They all come from a nearby community and came to Thailand several decades ago. Despite having lived in Thailand for such a long time, they are unable to get citizenship and remain officially recognised as migrants.
Surat Thani - Cho Mon Aung and her husband Win Hlaing work together in...READ ON
Surat Thani - Cho Mon Aung and her husband Win Hlaing work together in turning liquid rubber tree sap that they have just harvested into sheets of latex ready to sell to a factory. This is a process they do entirely themselves starting at night and finishing around lunchtime the next day. In this area migrant workers work in pairs on different plantations and often living in remote and isolated wooden houses provided for them by the Thai owner. Thailand
Bangkok - On International Labour Day on May 1, 2022, hundreds of migrant...READ ON
Bangkok - On International Labour Day on May 1, 2022, hundreds of migrant workers from Myanmar take part in a protest march in central Bangkok. They used the event to voice their labour concerns, show their support for imprisoned Aung San Su Kyi and show their opposition to the current military junta in control of Myanmar. The 'three-finger salute' is a political symbol first used in Thailand by Thai anti-government protesters. Adopted by the Burmese, it also represents their opposition to military rule. Thailand
Chiang Rai - Migrant worker Myintt Wa, 54, carries a bucket of water back to...READ ON
Chiang Rai - Migrant worker Myintt Wa, 54, carries a bucket of water back to his room at dawn. The workers camp is built on the outskirts of Chiang Rai city and is provided by his employer but is isolated and in bad condition. He is from a village outside Mandalay in Northern Myanmar where he worked as a farmer growing beans and rice. He saw his neighbours coming to work in Thailand and returning with enough money to buy televisions and motorbikes and wanted the same so 12 years ago decided to cross over the border to find work. He lives in a one room shack with his younger brother and every month they send 8000THB/month (US$240) back to their family in Myanmar. His daughter works in Bangkok in a fish canning factory. Thailand
As Southeast Asia’s largest country with a population of approximately 55 million people, Myanmar also has one of the largest numbers of people leaving the country seeking work. For decades, successive repressive military governments and civil armed conflicts have created an environment which provides very little opportunity for its people. With an economy dependent on agriculture but with a rising living cost due to sanctions, armed conflicts, lack of investment and limited market access, millions are unable to provide enough.
To improve their lives, for decades people from Myanmar have left in huge numbers to seek work in neighbouring countries, sending large portions of their wages back home every year to support relatives still inside the country. Data compiled by the International Labour Organization (ILO) suggests that the output of migrant workers accounts for over 6 percent of Myanmar’s total gross domestic product (GDP).
With a land border of over 2400 kilometres, Thailand receives the largest number of migrant workers from Myanmar with the promise of higher salaries and job opportunities. Over the last few decades Thailand’s economy has boomed becoming a manufacturing and production powerhouse in Southeast Asia. But with not enough Thai workers to meet its demand, according to the Mekong Migration Network, in 2021 over 4 million migrant workers came to work in Thailand from other countries in Southeast Asia and according to a study by Mahidol University in Bangkok in 2020 over 80% of those came from Myanmar.
Improved systems means many cross legally with official paperwork but many cross illegally, brought over by smugglers for a sizeable fee. Once on the Thai side of the border life can be hard with labour rights abuses and harassment frequently reported.
Various sectors employ the vast majority, namely the fishing industry, agriculture and construction. Often living in isolated communities their existence in Thailand can be invisible to the average person. Whether living in makeshift corrugated iron houses or in remote small wooden one-room houses in the middle of a plantation, they often live on the fringes of society.
This photo-story commissioned by Winrock International and with additional photographs from an assignment with The New York Times, offers an insight into the lives of Myanmar’s migrant workers in Thailand in the places where they live and work, showing the hard reality for many. Most would return to Myanmar immediately if the situation improves, but most have come to terms with the fact that that is unlikely to happen anytime soon.