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Women Migrants’ Shattered Dreams

By Manivone Luangsombath
Lao Womens’ Newspaper

Nalo was one of women in Thailand who dreamed of going to Bangkok to find a job and earn more money. But her dream was not realized, because she could not get the good job of dreams; she was forced to work as a prostitute. Unfortunately, when she went back home to Pong Hay village in Mae Aye District of Chiang Mai Province, she was infected with HIV.

Nalo, 37 years old, married a man when she went back home. She has two sons; they are very lucky to be HIV negative. Nalo is skinny and looks unhealthy. “Sixteen years ago, my sister and I went to Bangkok because we hoped it would be easy to find a jobs and earn more money than working in the garden,” says Nalo.

According to a May 2005 study by the International Labor Organization (ILO), at least 12.3 million people are forced laborers around the world and 49 percent are female migrants. The report states that debt bondage frequently affects minorities, including indigenous people who have long experienced discrimination in the labor market. They are locked in vicious cycles of poverty from which they find it ever more difficult to escape.

Many migrant workers’ dreams are shattered when they leave home. Nalo used to work as a lychee gardener to earn some money, but she and her sister moved to Bangkok because they needed more money to take care of their family. Her lychee garden was sold after she left home for Bangkok.

Nalo said, “I went to Bangkok because of word of mouth. My elder sister and I accompanied my friends. Ten people went to Bangkok to earn more money, but all of us were forced to work in sex services in a restaurant in Bangkok. A broker who was the restaurant owner’s relative pushed us”.

Nalo continued her words with a soft voice and her face looked sad. Said Nalo, “ Everyday my friends and I had to have sex with the customers. We never went out, and had only one meal per day, but I never got any money from my sex. I worked there for two years, then escaped and returned to my home. Now my friends, who used to be prostituted as I was, already have died of HIV/AIDS”.

According to Mr. Nithad, family planner of the family Planning Association of Thailand in Mae Aye District, “There were 21 HIV-infected patients in Pong Hai village in the year 1999, but only 11 of them are still alive. They are now patients of HIV-prevention center of Mae Aye District.”

There are some exceptions, lucky women migrant workers who could find good jobs and earn more money as they had hoped. Some of them work in garment factories and seafood factories, as housemaids or construction workers, depending on their skills. A Burmese woman named Ting is working as a shrimp peeler at a factory in Samut Sakorn Province. Ying, 25 years old, is fat and strong in a yellow uniform suit. She says, “I am a Burmese. I came to Thailand because I thought I could find a good job and earn more money. I have been working as a shrimp peeler for four years. Everyday, I am able to peel about 20 to 30 kilograms of shrimp, depending on the shrimp’s size. The estimated pay is 5 – 10 Baht per kilogram and I can earn about 4,000 to 6,000 Baht per month. I don’t want to go back home, because I need more money to support my son for his education when he grows up.”

However, many migrant workers are not as lucky as Ying. For instance a Lao, Hieng, came to Thailand and worked as a maid for five months, but she never even got one baht. Moreover, her employer abused her by penetrating her left ear with a big needle, making her ear disabled.
A representative of Raks Thai Foundation, an NGO that helps migrant workers, reported that although many migrant workers like to work and live in Thailand, their living conditions in Thailand are generally poor and very overcrowded. The costs of basic necessities such as rent and utilities are often a major trouble for migrants. Factory workers stay in the cheap accommodations provided by their employers or they share a cheap apartment with their friends. Migrants have little, if any privacy and they cook, eat and sleep in the same small space. They have no access to clean water and toilets are dirty and insufficient.

Tha Phae, a seafood port in Mahaxay District, Samut Sakorn Province located in the central part of Thailand, is a big Burmese migrant worker’s community. The population is around 144,000 to 200,000 people or more, including unemployed migrants, followers and children. A Burmese named Thorkhakong, 30, works as a shrimp peeler in a factory. Thorkakong says, “My family together with the other families, rent and share a room in a flat and we live together. I know it is not convenient for me to share a room with the others, but I have to because the rent for the room is very expensive -- a minimum of 4,000 baht per room.”

According to Ms. Nang, a staff of Migrant Action Program, an NGO that works with Burmese migrant workers, “Many migrant laborers have no access, or are reluctant to use health services or hospitals because they don’t have money and some of then can’t communicate with health or hospital personal. They therefore resort to self-medication by buying medicine from drug stores. The language barrier also keeps migrants away.”

Bouakham is a 35 year-old woman from Burma. She works as a construction worker in Chiang Mai. “We don’t like to go to hospital even when we get a health card and pay only 30 baht for a health check up.” She said “The result is the hospital is very far and when we go to see the doctor, we only receive some medicine with low quality to take.”

Moreover, we have difficulty with language communication. Therefore, if we are ill we prefer to go to a clinic, even though we spend more money. It is easier and faster.”

Living and earning in Thailand is not easy for migrant workers. Some workers say they have to escape to avoid arrest, because they don’t have work permits. Some of them work very hard but don’t get wages or they get diseases.

Nalo, the woman at Pong Hay village, said, “I’ don’t know when I got infected with HIV, but I have lived with HIV for seven years. My health is not well and I have to go to see a doctor every month under the government health scheme and receive ARV medicine, which I take two times a day.”
Even though her dreams were shattered, Nalo understands why people leave home for work. “If my son or my relatives need to go and work in the city or somewhere to earn money, I will let them go because I could not control them. But I will remind them that they must know how to earn money and live without disease.”

Copyright 2009 IMMF.