Friday, November 28, 2014

Building a future for Returning Refugees and Migrant workers in Myanmar

26 Nov 2014

CSR Asia has started a project recently in partnership with the International Rescue Committee (IRC) Thailand. The project is established on the premise that whilst conditions do not yet exist for the organised mass return of refugees currently living in Thailand, sufficient resources and efforts should be invested to build preparedness activities for the eventual return of refugees and migrant workers to Myanmar as the country reforms and develops. CSR Asia and IRC believe that opportunities exist for the private sector to be involved on this issue, particularly for those who have operations in Myanmar.

To give some background on this issue, in 1984, the first major influx of refugees from Myanmar came to Thailand. Today, around 120,000 people live in nine refugee camps and as many as 2-3 million migrants are residing in Thailand. These groups of people left Myanmar for many reasons, including armed conflict, lack of access to key services (health, education and other social services) and a need to sustain livelihoods. For NGOs and development agencies serving refugees and migrant workers in Thailand, efforts and resources are being devoted to encourage them to become more self-reliant through training and development opportunities, and entrepreneurship development programmes.

An example is the work that IRC and its partner agencies are doing to provide formal training to refugees and migrants to become health workers (medics, nurses, midwives and community health workers), due to the severe lack of health services and qualified health professionals in Myanmar, particularly in the border regions. As a result of this, IRC in collaboration with camp-based organisation and more than 300 refugee health workers are currently the sole providers of health services in three refugee camps: Ban Mai Nai Soi and Ban Mae Surin in Mae Hong Son Province, and Tham Hin in Ratchaburi Province. In addition, with IRC’s focus on building preparedness activities for return to Myanmar, they have recently introduced a programme to further strengthen the skills and competencies of refugee and migrant health care workers by providing recognised healthcare training courses from accredited academic institutions. For example, IRC and the School of Global Studies at Thammasat University have worked together to introduce a training which leads to the attainment a Certificate in Public Health, recognised by the Myanmar Ministry of Health (MOH).

Whilst some refugees and migrant workers in Thailand remain resistant to the prospect of return to Myanmar, some remain relatively open to the idea with several reported to have returned to Myanmar to explore opportunities or permanently1. For IRC and CSR Asia, our position remains that for those who are interested in returning to Myanmar in future, training opportunities could be provided to ensure that their skills and knowledge are aligned with the needs of the labour market in Myanmar.

It is against this background that CSR Asia travelled to Yangon in October to engage with companies operating in Myanmar to understand more about their human resource needs and the willingness of the private sector to employ returned refugees and migrant workers in Myanmar. The engagement was valuable in terms of understanding more about their views on the issue as well as shedding light on some of the questions that companies had in regard to the voluntary return of refugees and migrant workers.

As a next step of the project, CSR Asia and IRC will be inviting leading companies operating in Myanmar to engage in a dialogue to identify ways to support refugees and migrant workers. The first meeting will be convened in January 2015 where IRC will provide an overview of the situation for refugees and migrant workers residing in Thailand as well as the opportunities and challenges for them to return voluntarily to Myanmar. IRC will also address the key questions that companies had during our discussion. These include “why do they want to come back to Myanmar?”, “what skills do they possess?”, “where do they want to settle?”, “what is their legal status in Myanmar?” and “how will refugees resettle back into society?”. CSR Asia will provide our perspective on the business case for companies to be engage on this issue and provide practical examples of how they can support this cause. This is the first time that such an endeavour has been launched in the region, and we hope that it will become a truly innovative, impactful and sustainable project for the future development of Myanmar. 

If any companies are interested in understanding more about this project, please feel free to get in touch with CSR Asia at