Myanmar authorities are banking on foreign investments to generate jobs in a bid to woo back some of the country’s nearly 10 million migrant workers from neighboring countries.
Senior officials from three ministries—home affairs; labor, employment and social security; and foreign affairs—held discussions with legislators last week to help check the current lack of employment opportunities for returning migrant workers and refugees.
Htin Aung, deputy minister of the Ministry of Labor, Employment and Social Security, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that his ministry has discussed the problem with foreign investors.
He believes employment opportunities will arise from the Thilawa, Dawei and Kyaukphyu special economic zones (SEZs) currently under development.
The Thilawa SEZ—the largest of the three special economic zones—is a joint venture between the governments of Myanmar and Japan and private consortiums. It is situated about 23 kilometers (14 miles) southeast of Yangon in Thanlyin-Kyauktan.
The Dawei SEZ, a joint venture between the Myanmar and Thailand governments, is in the country’s southern Tanintharyi region, and the Kyaukphyu SEZ is located in Rakhine state in western Myanmar.
About 2 million Myanmar citizens work in Thailand, while about 1.5 million work in Malaysia, Htin Aung said.
There are about 200,000 Myanmar refugees in Thailand as well, he said. Many of them fled to the country during the decades of brutal military junta rule before a nominally civilian government was formed after the 2010 general elections.
Special economic zones
Legislators enacted a Special Economic Zone (SEZ) Law in January to allow foreign investors to invest in export-oriented industries in the zones so that Myanmar could generate jobs and improve its socioeconomic situation, reports have said.
Aung Soe Longlon, a legislator from Myanmar’s Tanintharyi region in the southernmost part of the country, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that about 80 percent of young people in his constituency worked in Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore.
“Although we have the Dawei Special Economic Zone in our division, we haven’t still created jobs for local people yet,” he said.
Thein Nyunt, chairman of the New National Democratic Party who represents Yangon’s Thingangyun township in the lower house, told RFA that the issue of migrant workers returning home was related not only to the lack of jobs, but also to the lack of peace in the country.
“We can’t solve this problem by providing job opportunities from the Thilawa and Dawei special economic zones for about 10 million migrant workers,” he said.
“We have to build our country based on the development of a democratic system to provide job opportunities for these migrant workers.”
A survey conducted by the Chiang Mai, Thailand-based nongovernmental organization Burma Study Center in March and April found that the majority of the more than 100 migrants from Myanmar currently living and working in northern Thailand indicated that they had a strong desire to return to their homeland.
But many were either afraid that it would not be safe for them to return now or did not believe that the situation in Myanmar had improved since the 2010 general election.
Almost 20 percent of those surveyed cited Myanmar’s low levels of development as the most important issue they wanted to see changed before returning home.
Nearly 17 percent pointed to a lack of peace or freedom, and 14 percent said improvements to the education system were needed.
Reported by Myo Thant Khine for RFA’s Myanmar Service. Translated by Khet Mar. Written in English by Roseanne Gerin.