Thai floods cut off Burma's remittance life-line | Connect Asia

Thai floods cut off Burma's remittance life-line

Thai floods cut off Burma's remittance life-line

Updated 28 February 2012, 17:00 AEDT

The human and economic cost of Thailand's worst floods in 50 years is continuing to rise.

The floods have spread across 64 of Thailand's 77 provinces in the past three months, killing more than 500 people.

Around 10,000 factories have been shut, leaving many without work.

The flood devastation also has a hidden impact - millions of families in Burma are now faced with financial ruin as remittances from migrant workers dry up.

Presenter: Sen Lam

Speaker: Michael Peyra, program coordinator for Caritas Australia

PEYRA: Well conservative estimates hold the number of illegal workers that is people without official permits and visa and passports to one-and-a-half to two million people on top of which there are 520,000 Burmese workers that are registered in Thailand. But the bulk of the people, of course, are day labourers that have crossed the border, found some form of employment, often indeed on a very short term in either the urban environment or in plantations and the fisheries industry and these people are responsible for remitting a lot of their earnings back to Burma where a lot of people are dependent on their efforts.

LAM: And the families of these migrant workers are totally reliant on those remittances. I take it that the situation is very dire for them?

PEYRA: That's correct, a lot of these workers have families back home, that is in Burma is often the head of the household that has to scout for jobs outside the country and yes, these families are dependent on what monies can be sent home. Now, of course, since these are people that are working without official permits, they're the first to be out of jobs when an economy contracts, so we're looking at a situation currently where there were floods, where people were out of work because indeed as you say an x-number of factories, 10,000 or 11,000 around Bangkok mainly are closed, but also in the longer term, this will have a major impact on the Thai economy for years to come and the first people that are going to have to suffer from that are these Burmese workers.

LAM: Indeed, the region has suffered floods for the past few months, including Thailand. Have you received any evidence, anecdotal or otherwise that the devastating affects of these floods are beginning to hit the Burmese people back in Burma, the families of these migrant workers?

PEYRA: Well yes, from colleague organisations, Caritas organisations working with the flood victims, we understand that in some of the most or the worst hit areas, there are a large number of foreign workers. Indeed around 70 per cent of those would be Burmese, followed by then the second contingent of Cambodians around 15 per cent and then there's a number of Lao. The problem is that because these people are there illegally, they're very difficult to trace and they're also not really eligible for any form of government support, as we know support going from the government authorities to Thai families, they're handouts, supports in these difficult times. But, of course, if you're not registered and therefore you don't officially exist, you miss out on that kind of service.

LAM: As you say, the Thai government has its hands full already trying to feed and clothe and look after their own people. But are they likely or unlikely to do anything for these migrant labourers, even on a humanitarian basis, even though they don't have proper papers?

PEYRA: Well, the main reason why we try to flag this is it is important that not only the Thai government recognise that they are to a large extent I guess dependent on the cheap labour that comes from outside, but also that in these particularly dire circumstances, this group is not forgotten and, of course, the Thai government is supporting the victims of the floods, but also other organisations, among which Caritas Thailand and other non-government organisations. But in this program their response is such that this group is not forgotten.

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