Myanmar families the silent victims in Thai floods

Media Release – Caritas Australia

9 November, 2011

Millions of families in Myanmar are the hidden face of Thailand’s flood devastation, confronted with financial ruin as relentless waters cripple the Thai economy.

Large numbers of Myanmar’s impoverished population rely heavily on so-called “remittances” _ money sent back from bordering nations like Thailand by loved ones working illegally, often in the construction industry.

Scores of jobs held by illegal Burmese workers have been lost and many more are expected to go as floodwaters force their way into Thailand’s capital, Bangkok.

Five percent of Myanmar’s GDP, approximately US$300 million, is sent back by migrant workers in the form of remittances every year.

Research indicates around 96 per cent of these remittances are spent on basic necessities like food.

“There is no doubt this is going to have, and is already having, a devastating impact on Burmese individuals and families,” said Caritas Australia Program Coordinator, Burma, Michael Peyra.

“During the financial crisis in 2009-10, when many factories in Thailand closed down as Western countries, taking a more protectionist stand, were cancelling their overseas orders, the first “casualties” were migrant workers in the country.

“Now, as a result of the floods, it is once again these same migrant workers, who have been providing Thailand with cheap labor, that are likely to be severely affected, as the economy takes the largest hit in decades.”

More than 500 people have died as floodwaters continue to ravage the nation and now threaten to destroy parts of Bangkok’s central business district.
The floods have spread across 64 of Thailand’s 77 provinces in the past three months, shutting 10,000 factories, leaving many without work.
Migrant workers are particularly vulnerable because they are generally poor and have limited access to government services.

It is estimated that over 520,000 Burmese workers are registered in Thailand, while another 1.5 million are working there illegally.
It has also been estimated that in some of the worst hit areas up to 75 percent of foreign workers are Burmese followed by 15 per cent Cambodian and 10 per cent Lao.
“The importance of these remittances going back to the Burmese people cannot be underestimated. That money is crucial to their survival,” Mr Peyra said.
Media contact: Ryan Heffernan 0408 869 833