Category Archives: MMN Activities

Statement from International Women’s Day 2019, Chiang Mai

On 8 March 2019, Mekong Migration Network took part in a celebration of International Women’s Day in Chiang Mai, Thailand. Migrant women from across Thailand and representatives of civil society organisations took to the streets of Chiang Mai to honour the achievements of women–past and present–and demand an end to the injustices women continue to face.

Read our joint statement of the event in EnglishBurmese, or Thai.


MMN Consultation on Labour Migration from Myanmar to Japan

On 15 October 2018, Mekong Migration Network (MMN) and the International Labour Organisation (ILO) jointly organised the Consultation on Labour Migration from Myanmar to Japan at the Sedona Hotel in Yangon, Myanmar. The consultation was held at a time when anticipation was growing with regards to Japan amending its migration policy to receive increased numbers of migrants and possibly under a different scheme. Early 2018, the Japanese government announced their intention to recruit upwards 500,000 foreign workers by 2025 to fill gaps in the country’s labour market and to open a new pathway to migrants. Myanmar is considered by Japan to be a key source of migrant workers. In April 2018, Japan and Myanmar signed a Memorandum of Cooperation (MOC) on the Technical Intern Training Program (TITP) to set the commitments and responsibilities of both countries in the sending and accepting of technical intern trainees.

Given this background, MMN and ILO held the consultation meeting with the aims to better understand the challenges and opportunities in the migration procedures from Myanmar to Japan and to jointly explore interventions and strategies to increase the efficiency and safety of the migration routes. Over 40 participants attended the event, including representatives from the Ministry of Labour, Immigration, and Population (MOLIP), the Myanmar Overseas Employment Agencies’ Federation (MOEAF), overseas recruitment agencies, and civil society organisations, the labour attaché from the Embassy of Japan in Myanmar, experts on Japanese migration, and migrant returnees.

In the first plenary entitled, “The Recruitment and Deployment of Myanmar Workers to Japan: Policies and Trends”, Ms. Khin Cho Win, the Assistant Director of the Department of Labour from the MOLIP, reported that 60 of the 259 licensed private recruitment agencies have been sending workers to various sectors including seafood processing, construction, agriculture, garment and welding since the signing of the MOC. Mr. Win Htun, the Vice Chairperson of the MOEAF, then outlined the procedures for the recruitment of Myanmar workers to Japan, which can take up to three to four months to complete. In the ensuing open discussion, concerns were shared regarding the causes for migrants to leave their posts in Japan without properly terminating their contracts. Mr. Asato Wako, Associate Professor from Kyoto University, suggested that poor labour conditions in Japan remain the key reasons for migrants to leave their jobs and should be addressed as the foremost issue.

In the second plenary titled “The Employment of Myanmar Workers in Japan: Policies and Trend”, Mr. Yuta Isozaki, Labour Attaché from the Embassy of Japan in Myanmar, discussed Japan’s growing need for migrant workers and the newly introduced TITP law in November 2017 that offers more protection to migrant workers in Japan. The Japanese government also plans to recruit migrant workers through an alternative pathway to the TITP. Professor Asato explained that the new TITP law in 2017 has increased enforcement power, but continues to leave several issues unaddressed. These include the high rate of Myanmar migrants leaving their posts without terminating their contracts and the lack of a mechanism to prevent involuntary repatriation imposed by employers. Professor Asato also questioned whether the TITP can really achieve its stated objectives of “transfer[ring] technical skills, techniques and knowledge to Myanmar” and “contribut[ing] to the human resource development of Myanmar”. He doubted that all migrants can gain skills useful enough to utilise in their country of origin. In the discussion that followed, participants pointed out the need for accrediting workers’ skills both in Myanmar and Japan.

In the third plenary, Ms. Kyawt Kyawt Aung and Ms. Thiri Tun, migrant returnees from Japan, shared the problems they faced while working in Japan. When their labour rights have been violated, they found it difficult to hold their employer in Japan and sending organisation in Myanmar accountable despite their numerous efforts to contact authorities. They urged the MOLIP to play a more active role in providing support to migrants on site as well as upon return.

After the plenaries, participants explored the opportunities and challenges involved in the migration to Japan from the perspectives of migrant workers, the government and private recruitment agencies. Based on the results of the discussion, participants came up with several recommendations concerning the roles of the country of origin (Myanmar) and destination (Japan), the facilitation of dialogue among different stakeholders in Myanmar and Japan, the development of sound remittance systems, and the strengthening of overseas support for migrants and assistance for return and reintegration.

Press Release: Mekong Migration Network Convenes Multi-stakeholder Meeting to Discuss Challenges Arising From Labour Migration from Cambodia to Japan

21 February 2019

MMN Press Release: Mekong Migration Network Convenes Multi-stakeholder Meeting to Discuss Challenges Arising From Labour Migration from Cambodia to Japan

On 18 February 2019, the Mekong Migration Network (MMN) held a multi-stakeholder meeting on labour migration from Cambodia to Japan. The meeting was convened in anticipation to changes in Japanese immigration law which will enter into force in April 2019. The new law will create a new migration pathway for Cambodians who are considered “specified skilled workers”. Along with the Technical Internship Training Programme (TITP), the new immigration law is intended to attract foreign workers to fill gaps in Japan’s labour market created by rapidly ageing population. Direct hiring of foreign workers and change of employers within the same sector will now be allowed under the new migration pathway. Cambodia is considered by Japan to be a key source of migrant workers and is reported to be one of eight Asian countries in which a bilateral agreement on managing labour migration will be put in place.

Over 50 participants exchanged views at the event, including representatives of the Cambodian government, civil society organisations, the International Labour Organisation (ILO), Association of Cambodian Recruitment Agencies (ACRA), Manpower Association of Cambodia (MAC) and private recruitment agencies, and academic experts on Japanese migration.

In a keynote speech delivered by Her Excellency, Ms Chou Bun Eng, Secretary of State, Permanent Vice President of the National Committee for Counter-Trafficking (NCCT), Royal Government of Cambodia expressed concerns that the direct hiring process may still not prevent unscrupulous brokers from cheating workers. She called for more robust regulation of direct hiring procedures and clarification on the roles of recruitment agencies. She remarked, “The workers’ hopes are also the government’s hope…we want to see fair migration, good departure training, and happy returnees; we want to see workers being safe and free from exploitation and cheating.”

Representatives of the Ministry of Labour and Vocational Training shared similar concerns about the continued exploitation of workers by unlicensed brokers. They reported that the government is currently negotiating with Japan for a new Memorandum of Cooperation that will allow Cambodian workers to migrate more safely through the migration pathway. This will likely conclude in March 2019.

Associate Professor Asato Wako from Kyoto University noted that under the new immigration policy, Japan now officially recognises incoming migrant workers as “workers”. However, he stated that though direct hiring sounds good on paper, in practice, workers do not have comprehensive information, and therefore cannot make informed decision. Unless appropriate measures are taken to regulate recruitment fees and prevent unscrupulous brokers, it will not prevent deception, abuse or trafficking. Professor Asato also highlighted the confusion that remains over how the new visa category is related to other existing and already complicated migration pathways to Japan. He called for greater transparency in the system.

Currently, there are already around 9,000 Cambodian migrants working in Japan under the TITP, a number expected to rapidly rise. Participants discussed possible causes for a number of Cambodian migrants leaving their jobs in Japan without completing their contracts. These may include high recruitment fees resulting in workers being indebted. There is currently no standard recruitment fee in Cambodia. Another factor may be poor labour conditions in Japan. An earlier report by the Japanese government revealed that 70% of employers who hire TITP workers engaged in rights-violating practices. Despite this, migrants are often vilified for leaving their jobs and labeled “runaways”. Ms Reiko Harima, MMN Regional Coordinator, urged stakeholders to refrain from using such loaded derogatory term when referring to migrant workers.

Finally, participants called for the Japanese and Cambodian governments as well as Cambodian private recruitment agencies to play a more active role in monitoring workers’ labour conditions. Suggestions were also raised for the Cambodian government and private recruitment agencies to develop better pre-departure training that informs workers about existing channels of overseas assistance in the event that they encounter exploitation and abuse.


The Mekong Migration Network (MMN) is a sub-regional network of CSOs and research institutes that has been working towards the protection and promotion of migrants’ rights in the Mekong Sub-region since 2001. MMN members operate in both countries of origin and destination and have unique expertise in the field and close contact with migrant workers at a grassroots level. MMN also has regular dialogue with government stakeholders in the Mekong Sub-region. In 2017, MMN published a report “Safe from Start: Roles of Countries of Origin” in which it calls for more pro-active action by the countries of origin in protecting migrants’ rights. For more information about MMN, please visit our webpage at:


For more information about the consultation meeting, please contact the following:

Ms. Reiko Harima, MMN Regional Coordinator, at (English or Japanese)

Mr. Sokchar Mom, Executive Director of the LSCW, at  or by phone on 012943767 (English or Khmer)

MMN at the ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN Peoples’ Forum (ACSC/APF), 2-4 November 2018, Singapore

The ASEAN Civil Society Conference/ASEAN Peoples’ Forum (ACSC/APF) 2018 took place in Singapore from 2-4 November 2018 with the participation of more than 200 people coming from 11 Southeast Asian countries, namely Brunei Darussalam, Cambodia, Indonesia, Lao PDR, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, Timor Leste, Vietnam and regional civil society groups. The overarching theme of this year was “Empowering Peoples’ Solidarity Against All Forms of Discrimination” in Southeast Asia, with thematic “convergence spaces” on: Just and Sustainable Development; Safe Movement of Migrants; Life with Dignity; Peace and Security; Human Rights and Access to Justice; and Against All Forms of Discrimination. For more information about ACSC/APF 2018, please visit:

On 3 November 2018, the second day of the APF/ACSC, the Mekong Migration Network (MMN) organised a workshop titled: “Examining the impact of social exclusion on ASEAN migrants” under the convergence space on Safe Movement of Migrants in collaboration with MMN members and partner organisations, including Future Light Center (FLC) from Myanmar, Foundation for Education and Development (FED) from Thailand, and Transient Workers Count Too (TWC2) from Singapore. More than 20 participants attended the workshop. The main objectives of the workshop were: (i) to generate critical discussion on the underlying factors, including discriminatory policies and practices of both countries of origin and destination, leading to the social exclusion of migrants across the region, and (ii) to provide a space for participants to jointly strategise and develop recommendations that renounce all forms of discrimination, promote the social inclusion and empowerment of all migrants, and build solidarity amongst migrants’ rights advocates across countries in ASEAN. The workshop commenced with a MMN Multimedia presentation titled: “Beyond ‘Tolerance’: Living Together with Migrants”, which was followed by a panel discussion involving Mr. John Gee (TWC2), Ms. Thet Thet Aung (FLC), and Ms. Ei Ei Chaw (FED).

In his presentation, Mr. John Gee (TWC2) pointed out the impacts of the Myanmar government’s migration ban on domestic workers heading for Singapore, which had been imposed since 2014 and reaffirmed in 2015. Despite the ban, a significant number of women continue to leave Myanmar to work as domestic workers in Singapore, while recruitment agencies in Singapore continue to advertise for domestic workers from Myanmar. Myanmar women are much more likely to come to Singapore via irregular routes, which reduces their chances of obtaining information on the legal scope of their work, their rights, and the sources of help and counsel in the destination country. Due to their irregular status, many women are further discouraged from seeking help from their embassy in the event that they experience abuse or are subjected to bad employment conditions. Rather than protecting Myanmar domestic workers, therefore, the ban makes this group of women more vulnerable to abuse. Among different groups of domestic workers in Singapore, those from Myanmar are, as a result, most likely to face abuse, the lowest paid, and the least likely to have days off. In the long run, development within countries of origin is crucial in eliminating abuse and making migration for work a real matter of choice. Mr. Gee concluded his talk by emphasising the role of countries of origin in protecting and respecting the rights of their nationals working overseas, providing overseas assistance more effectively in destination countries, and making migration for work “a real matter of choice”.

Following Mr. Gee’s discussion, Ms. Thet Thet Aung (FLC) presented on issues relating to Myanmar migrants before deployment and upon return. Myanmar women head to Singapore to work as domestic workers with the hopes of overcoming poverty, at times paying up to six months of their salary to brokers or other intermediaries to pursue their dreams of working in Singapore. However, a number of them lack or find it difficult to obtain information before deployment, especially on the channels of assistance in the event that they are abused or face other issues. Upon return, they also cannot access any kinds of assistance because they migrated in spite of the ban and are made legally liable. After bringing to light the plights of Myanmar domestic workers, Ms. Thet Thet Aung shared some grass-roots initiatives of her organisation in supporting migrant workers.

Ms. Ei Ei Chaw’s (FED) presentation focused on the vulnerabilities of migrant workers that have emerged owing to the constant changes in Thailand’s policies. She explained that the process migrants have to go through to apply for work permits in Thailand is lengthy, expensive and often impeded by bureaucratic requirements. Furthermore, many migrant workers do not enjoy a decent wage and decent work, as they are often paid twenty-five percent less than the minimum wage and work under unsafe and harsh conditions. Ms. Ei Ei Chaw also pointed out that child labour remains an issue in Thailand. With regards to social protection, migrant workers face many challenges in accessing social security programmes. In light of the difficulties many migrant workers face, FED has come up with different programmes to support migrant workers in Thailand, such as raising awareness among them, providing legal support, and advocating for their rights.

The workshop ended with open discussion from the floor and participants developing joint recommendations. These recommendations mainly called for ASEAN member states to collaborate with each other and other stakeholders, including civil society organisations, to protect and promote migrants’ human rights and their communities; and their welfare in destination countries and origin countries without discrimination. Two of the six key recommendations include:

no.4. Bans on migration must be evaluated and assessed before being imposed and they need to be in line with migration policies and enforcement for safe migration; and

no.6. Mutual portability of social protection including healthcare, child education and welfare amongst ASEAN member states should be developed to ensure the inclusion of ASEAN peoples;

The MMN secretariat submitted the recommendations from the workshop to the Local Organising Committee (LOC), all of which were adopted in the ACSC/APF 2018  Statement (jointly discussed and developed on 4 November 2018) under the section of “Ensuring the Safe Movement of Migrants(recommendations 2 to 7).

Presentation and pictures of MMN’s workshop and delegates’ activities can be accessed from this link.

Workshop on Frameworks on Migrant Labour in the Fishing Industry in the Mekong

On 5 August 2018, Mekong Migration Network (MMN) organised a workshop entitled “Frameworks on Migrant Labour in the Fishing Industry in the Mekong” at the Empress Hotel in Chiang Mai, Thailand. The workshop aimed to: 1) clarify the concepts of various frameworks surrounding/relating to labour migration, such as trafficking, slavery, forced labour, etc; 2) examine the implications of these frameworks on labour migration, particularly on migrant labour in fisheries; and 3) exchange views on what can be done to protect the rights of migrant workers and their families in fisheries. Approximately 30 representatives of civil society organisations (CSOs) working on labour migration throughout the Greater Mekong Sub-region attended the workshop.

The workshop started with a presentation by Ms. Jackie Pollock, a representative from the International Labour Organization (ILO), Myanmar, who clarified the concepts of various frameworks. Ms. Pollock provided definitions on the key terms often applied to the conditions of migrant labour in the fishing industry, including human trafficking, smuggling, forced labour, slavery and decent work. She emphasised that international laws do not clearly specify the situations under which each framework should be adopted. This has led to the different approaches adopted to address the exploitation of migrants in the fishing industry, including the 3Ps/4Ps (Prevention, Protection, Prosecution & and Partnership), anti-slavery, corporate social responsibility, United Nation Guiding Principles on Business and Human Rights, Decent Work and FLEX (Focus on Labour Exploitation). During the discussion following the presentation, Ms. Pollock also pointed out the need to challenge the Thai government’s use of an anti-trafficking framework to address the issues in the fishing industry. Such a framework draws energy, resources and commitment away from the empowerment of migrants and the promotion of their labour rights, and instead places its focus on prosecuting traffickers and victimising migrants. She believed that the government’s adoption of this framework reflects its fear that migrants would be able to unionise, exercise their rights and become a threat to be reckoned with.

The plenary session was followed by the screening of a recent Human Rights Watch’s documentary entitled, “Thailand: Forced Labour, Trafficking Persist in Fishing Fleets,” which explores the changes (and the lack thereof) in the fishing industry after the Thai government stepped up its efforts to stop human trafficking and forced labour in the industry. To view the documentary, please visit:

In the second plenary entitled, “Understanding the Day-to-Day Reality of Working at Sea”, Mr. Sompong Srakaew from the Labour Rights Promotion Network Foundation (LPN) presented on the situation of migrant workers in the fishing industry in Thailand and LPN’s initiatives to provide assistance to workers in the industry. Mr. Sompong expressed his concerns about the effectiveness of government measures, especially the implementation of mechanisms to manage and protect migrant workers. In one case where several fishery workers were stranded in Indonesia and continued to endure physical abuse and severe working conditions that sometimes resulted in their deaths, the Thai government only offered support to the Thai workers on board, rather than the Myanmar and Cambodian workers who were also on the Thai vessel. In light of this, LPN aims to support both Thai and migrant fishery workers by assisting them in forming unions to raise their voices and promote their rights.

Mr. Tun Lin from the Thai and Migrant Fisheries Union Group (TMFG) then presented on his 11 years of experience working as a fishery worker.  He spoke of the exploitative and rights-violating practices that he lived through first hand, such as not being paid his salary, not receiving rest periods even when he was sick, and not being compensated when he lost his fingers from an accident in Indonesia–experiences that motivated him to become a migrant leader and collaborate with Thai fishery workers to help other migrants exercise their rights. Mr. Tun Lin and LPN’s mission to assist fishery workers stranded in Indonesia was filmed and made into a documentary titled, “Ghost Fleets”. For further information about the documentary, please visit:

In the last plenary entitled, “How are different frameworks used to understand the situation of migrant labour in the fishing industry and what are the implications for policy and programme formulation?”, Mr. Sokchar Mom from Legal Support for Children and Women (LSCW) discussed the frameworks adopted in Cambodia to protect fishery workers. Mr. Mom noted that laws and policies related to migrants in the fishing industry in Cambodia remain unclear, as the government neither regulates nor bans practices in the industry, which causes migrants to become more vulnerable. He highlighted that current protection programmes focused on trafficked victims have been established under multi-responsive approaches, but seemed to fail when people under the programme continue to re-migrate instead of going through the government assistance process.   

Mr. Phil Robertson from Human Rights Watch (HRW) then shared the findings of a recent HRW report that discussed the ongoing cases of forced labour in the fishing industry. Despite the Thai government’s efforts to regulate migration and employment in the fishing industry, unlicensed brokers continue to operate and working conditions have not improved in reality. HRW key recommendations include: drafting a stand-alone law on forced labour, ending restrictions on freedom of movement, granting permission to travel out of province, delinking the status of migrant workers to their employers, implementing an effective complaint mechanisms, publishing a watch list of companies and CEOs with history of Trafficking In Person (TIP) and forced labour, amending the Labour Relations Act to permit migrant workers to form and lead their own unions, ratifying ILO Conventions 87 on the Freedom of Association, Convention 98 on the Right to Organize and Collectively Bargain, and Convention 188 on work in Fishing.

In the ensuing discussion, participants raised their concerns with the ongoing harsh working conditions in the fishing industry and the dysfunctional protection mechanisms. Aside from the ineffective laws and regulations concerning migration management, fishing associations often serve as additional obstacles to migrants obtaining and exercising their full rights. Participants also shared their own experiences with advocating for migrant workers’ rights and made suggestions on advocacy strategies to more effectively promote migrant workers’ rights in the fishing industry.



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