In her poem entitled “Home”, British-African poet Warsan Shire wrote, “No one leaves home unless home is the mouth of a shark.”
Many Myanmar nationals have left home to work abroad because their motherland is in the mouth of poverty. But after the global COVID-19 pandemic struck, the situation for Myanmar migrant workers has proved dire.
It is hard to be sure of how many Myanmar nationals are abroad seeking to make a living. An ILO report published in October 2020 estimated that about 10 per cent of Myanmar’s labour force was working abroad. Almost 2 million Myanmar migrant workers were working in Thailand and Malaysia alone in 2019, said the report citing Thailand’s Ministry of Labour and Malaysia’s Ministry of Human Resources.
The COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting restrictions, lockdowns and border closures had a dramatic effect on the ability of Myanmar migrants to work and to travel in the Southeast Asia region, and further afield.
Thailand was one of the first countries to register COVID-19, the first case announced as early as 13 January 2020, and the numbers grew, though not substantially, around mid-March.
Thailand’s Ministry of Public Health confirmed 89 new coronavirus cases on March 21. Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha declared a state of emergency, effective on March 26, and a curfew went into effect on April 3. Then, businesses were ordered to shut down in Bangkok and several other provinces affected by the pandemic.
As a result of the shutdown, tens of thousands of Myanmar migrant workers found themselves in trouble.