U.N. migration report notes Thailand’s positive actions

Thailand has taken important steps to fight human trafficking and labor exploitation and abuse of migrants, even as the number of foreign migrants in the Kingdom has shot up by more than a million, according to the first United Nations interagency Thailand Migration Report published in five years.

“This report takes place against the backdrop of significant efforts by the Royal Thai Government to combat human trafficking and exploitative working conditions for migrants. A range of measures have recently been introduced to address these issues,” the U.N. said in the publication, citing both local laws and regulations, and ratifications of international agreements but the Thai government.

A total of 15 U.N. agencies contributed to the research and analysis contained in the publication, with the International Organization for Migration (IOM) serving as the lead agency. The report provides a balanced assessment of the state of migration in Thailand, the efforts being made by government and others to improve the situation and the problems and challenges that still lay ahead.

The report notes that “Thailand has enacted progressive policies that guarantee migrants access to many essential services regardless of legal status, including education and health care.” On the other hand, it points out that barriers continue to hinder their use of these services in practice, with only 51 percent of migrants enrolled in public health care programs.

While praising the new measures enacted by the Thai government, the U.N. cautioned that the new legal framework alone would not be enough to ensure the wellbeing and fair treatment of migrants. “Partnerships with other key stakeholders, such as the private sector, civil society, trade unions, international organizations, and the media, will be necessary to promote safe migration and decent work for migrants,’’ the report said.

According to the U.N., over 4.9 million migrants are living and working in Thailand today, a substantial increase over the 3.7 million recorded in 2014, the year of the last report. Most migrants come from Myanmar, Cambodia and the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, all of which border Thailand. Viet Nam also sends a sizable number.

The influx of migrants is a controversial issue in many countries. Thailand has not displayed, however, any significant backlash against the presence of migrants. That may reflect the fact that Thailand is an aging society and in need of pools of younger workers willing to do the jobs that no longer appeal to locals.

Migrants also make a substantial contribution to the Thai economy. The report said that their work contributes somewhere between 4.3 percent and 6.6 percent of gross domestic product.