The vulnerable situation of migrant workers in the coronavirus crisis is being highlighted by the Mekong Migration Network (MMN), which is calling on the governments in the Greater Mekong Subregion – including Thailand, Cambodia and Myanmar – to protect and support these workers, including those employed in factories.

While the governments of Thailand, Myanmar and Cambodia have urged migrant workers to avoid travelling back to their countries of origin during the crisis, for many this means “no job, no food and a real risk of homelessness.”

Other challenges they face include the fact that significant number of migrant workers will not qualify for existing government initiatives as they are either undocumented or ineligible to register on the grounds that they are in the informal sector.

Migrants who have returned to their countries of origin also face a host of challenges, with Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos all quarantining migrant returnees. Many migrants no longer hold documentation in their country of origin, making it difficult for them to access social protection, including basic healthcare.

And the sudden influx of returnees is also the cause of hardship at the household level, as families must feed and accommodate returning relatives at short notice. 

“The Covid-19 crisis has heightened the urgent need for governments to provide a social safety net for the most vulnerable, including migrant workers, since the disease does not respect borders or care about people’s immigration status or social standing,” MMN says.

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The group, a Clean Clothes Campaign (CCC) network organisation, is urging relevant authorities in countries of origin and destination to take immediate action to protect and support the welfare of migrants and their families.

The Thai cabinet on 24 March approved measures to ease immigration regulations to allow registered migrant workers and their children to extend their right to remain and work in the country until 30 June. On the same day, it also approved draft Ministerial Regulations and Notifications regarding compensation and relief measures for employers and employees registered with the Social Security Fund (SSF).

However, while MMN has welcomed the measures, it says they do not go far enough to help those who face a loss of livelihood due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

“A significant number of migrant workers will not qualify for these government initiatives as they are either undocumented or ineligible to register since the Social Security Fund excludes many migrant occupations on the grounds that they are in the informal sector.”

MMN has outlined a number of recommendations for the relevant authorities to implement, including:

  • For the Thai Ministry of Health to publicly announce that all migrants, regardless of immigration status, can access free public healthcare that is appropriately prepared to deal with the complexities of a pandemic.
  • For the relevant authorities in Thailand and countries of origin to mount far-reaching coordinated public information campaigns aimed at migrants to inform them of important matters relating to the Covid-19 pandemic in appropriate migrant languages.
  • For the Thai Ministry of Labour and Ministry of Health to issue immediate occupational health and safety guidelines in Thai and migrant languages for employers and workers who continue to work, including domestic workers.
  • For the Thai government to pursue responsive and appropriate relief measures that benefit all workers including informal sector workers and undocumented migrant workers, who face loss of work and income.
  • For countries of origin to provide appropriate support for families who have lost income as a result of the return of migrant family members.