Category Archives: Other 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.

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.



MMN in Media: Podcast: Domestic Helpers- More Helpers from Cambodia in Hong Kong

It has been recently announced that the first batch of domestic workers from Cambodia will arrive in Hong Kong in the autumn. There are concerns about these workers’ vulnerability to rights violation as new comers. Speakers from Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, Employers’ Association and NGOs including a representative of the Mekong Migration Network (Reiko Harima, Regional Coordinator) discuss the issues surrounding foreign domestic workers in Hong Kong in this an-hour-long radio program.

The program was broadcast live on 26 April 2017


Please click the link below to listen to the full podcast:

Podcast: Domestic Helpers- More Helpers from Cambodia in Hong Kong


MMN in Media: Why Hong Kong’s plan for Cambodian maids may be hard work all round

The Chinese city has turned to a new source to solve a shortage of foreign domestic workers, but a past deal with Myanmar and an ill-fated scheme in Singapore suggest there will be plenty of problems to iron out

There are 330,000 foreign domestic workers – chiefly from Indonesia and the Philippines- already working in Hong Kong. Photo:AFP

Hong Kong may hope to ease its shortage of domestic workers by welcoming its first batch of maids from Cambodia later this year, but if history is anything to go by the scheme could end up providing more problems than solutions.

Under a new five-year scheme, the first trial group of 1,000 Cambodian workers will arrive in Hong Kong this autumn, adding to the 330,000 foreign domestic workers – chiefly from Indonesia and the Philippines – who already work in the city.

But those five years could well prove tumultuous, worker advocates warn, as both Hong Kong and Cambodia have chequered histories when it comes to the exploitation of such workers.

The success of the deal, they say, will hinge on both sides’ ability to stamp out corrupt practices among recruiters, improve worker training – and on whether the Cambodian government can muster the political willpower to act on cases of abuse.

Hong Kong’s Secretary for Commerce and Economic Development Gregory So Kam-leung, left, and Cambodia’s Minister of Labour and Vocational and Training H.E. Ith Sam Heng signed the domestic helper deal earlier this week. Photo: K. Y. Cheng

Cases of abuse of foreign domestic helpers in Hong Kong surface periodically – in part an almost inevitable consequence of the large numbers working in the city – and often receive widespread media coverage.

Indonesian worker Erwiana Sulistyaningsih became a cause célèbre when in January 2014 she accused her Hong Kong employer of subjecting her to six months of physical abuse, with photographs of her injuries spreading through social media and prompting widespread outrage. So well-known did her case become that Time magazine included her on its list of 100 most powerful people that year.

But her case is far from unique; cases of helpers falling to their deaths while cleaning flat windows are not unheard of, while workers frequently complain of loan-sharking and exploitation by employment agencies.

One bad omen for the deal may be the arrangement between Hong Kong and Myanmar in early 2014 that envisaged bringing in 2,000 maids in the first year. Six months after their arrival, about one in five of the first 90 helpers had already returned home as they could not adjust to life in the city.

The Myanmar government later banned its women from working as maids in Singapore or Hong Kong because of concerns over abuse and exploitation.

In recent months, the Hong Kong government has moved to clamp down on exploitative practices, in part by introducing a code of practice for employment agencies.

“The government’s code of practice and more staff to monitor the actions of employment agencies were good steps, but in reality, I don’t think it goes far enough to make the Hong Kong [employment] agencies understand that they have an ongoing duty to ensure the safety of workers,” said Jade Anderson, anti-human trafficking coordinator at the Hong Kong Justice Centre.

“And there is certainly anecdotal evidence of increased vulnerability to exploitation and trafficking for workers coming to Hong Kong without proper support networks or communities.”

Abuses have been very poorly addressed [by Cambodia] with a system that is set for exploitation

Part of the deal between Hong Kong and Cambodia requires the helpers to undergo three months of cooking and health care training prior to their arrival, but Anderson said this was not enough to prevent exploitation and that more education was needed on workers’ legal rights.

“Even after training, their language skills are still not sufficient enough to understand the reams of documentation that agencies place in front of them and ask them to sign. This is one area where there is tremendous scope for exploitation.”

The workers will arrive this autumn from a country where the minimum wage is just US$153 per month, female education levels are low and corruption and exploitation commonplace.

Members of the Asian Migrants Coordinating Body at a march to demand increased salaries for domestic workers in Hong Kong. Photo: K. Y. Cheng

Government data shows just 65 per cent of Cambodian girls in poor rural areas transition from primary to secondary school and by the time they reach senior years, at least 30 per cent have dropped out. But opposition lawmaker and women’s rights campaigner, Mu Sochua, from the Cambodia National Rescue Party, says the dropout rate could be far higher, with only 14 per cent of female students in rural areas completing high school. As a result, many female Cambodian workers are desperate for higher paying jobs but are largely ill equipped for what the work will entail.

“An estimated two million youth are unskilled labourers in neighbouring countries. This will not improve without a vision, a real investment in the national budget and political will,” she said.

“Abuses have been very poorly addressed [by Cambodia] with a system that is set for exploitation.”

The treatment of Cambodian migrant workers overseas, in such countries as Malaysia and Singapore, has long been a matter of controversy. In 2011, Cambodia banned workers from travelling to Malaysia after repeated cases of abuse surfaced. That decision had an undesired effect – causing workers to go underground, leaving participants even more exposed to exploitation. The ban was lifted in 2015.

Reflecting on Cambodia’s reaction to the abuse in Malaysia, Roiki Harima, managing director of the Mekong Migration Network, said embassies needed to play a bigger role in investigating mistreatment.

“To date, the embassies and consulates have not been responsive and that is something we want to see improved. Rather than bans, countries such as Cambodia need more political willpower to take concrete steps to improve the situation in receiving nations,” she said.

Mu Sochua, centre, a Cambodian opposition lawmaker, says corruption in the country’s own domestic worker recruitment agencies is a major hurdle to establishing a new deal. Photo: AFP

In 2013, Cambodia signed up to an ill-fated pilot scheme to provide Singapore with migrant workers. Alex Au Waipang, of the Singapore-based Transient Workers Count Too, said many Cambodian workers had lacked the support, education and maturity to work overseas. “Being the first in a pioneering batch, there was no community to really help them adjust,” he said, adding that the NGOs were equally unprepared. “Compared to Indonesian or Filipino workers … many Cambodians just wanted to go home. They were not ready to be domestic helpers. They were homesick.”

Like the Hong Kong-Cambodia deal, training was promised as part of the Singapore pilot scheme. But Au said the training was either non-existent or ineffective as many Cambodian workers were familiar with neither modern household amenities nor basic English. “So what were they trained for, we wonder?”

In addition to cultural differences, Au, Sochua and Harima cited falsified documents and qualifications, underage workers, employment agency corruption and the unofficial licensing of rural recruitment agents in Cambodia as ongoing problems.

“Compounding the issues was that the girls were underage, not even adults and potentially not of the education level required,” Au said of the Singapore experience. “About half the cases we saw were like that. There were so many things wrong, I hardly know where to begin.”

Au said Hong Kong needed to inspect the situation in Cambodia as well as recruitment and training agencies in both countries. But above all, it needed to establish a community for the workers. “If we could do it all over again, I would first bring in the Cambodian men,” he said.

“Take the Burmese for example. In Singapore, the men were brought in first, as construction workers, who quickly formed a community because they were out and about, did not live with family and tended to start businesses like restaurants [and visited temples]. Then, all of a sudden, we had access to translators and when the domestic workers began to arrive – sure there was some homesickness – that community took root much faster.”
By: Edouard Morton, South China Morning
Published on: 29 April 2017
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