Luke Duggleby

Photographer
    
LIFE ON THE OTHER SIDE
Location: Bangkok, Thailand
Nationality: British
Biography: Luke Duggleby is an award-winning British freelance photographer who has been based in Bangkok, Thailand, for more than 15 years. Focusing on Asia, he has worked for some of the most globally respected media publications and NGO's producing... MORE
Public Story
LIFE ON THE OTHER SIDE
Copyright Luke Duggleby 2023
Updated Jan 2023
Location Thailand
Topics Spotlight
Summary
With a land border of over 2400 kilometres, Thailand receives the largest number of migrant workers from Myanmar with the promise of higher salaries and job opportunities. Over the last few decades Thailand’s economy has boomed becoming a manufacturing and production powerhouse in Southeast Asia. But with not enough Thai workers to meet its demand, according to the Mekong Migration Network, in 2021 over 4 million migrant workers came to work in Thailand from other countries in Southeast Asia and according to a study by Mahidol University in Bangkok in 2020 over 80% of those came from Myanmar.
As Southeast Asia’s largest country with a population of approximately 55 million people, Myanmar also has one of the largest numbers of people leaving the country seeking work. For decades, successive repressive military governments and civil armed conflicts have created an environment which provides very little opportunity for its people. With an economy dependent on agriculture but with a rising living cost due to sanctions, armed conflicts, lack of investment and limited market access, millions are unable to provide enough.

To improve their lives, for decades people from Myanmar have left in huge numbers to seek work in neighbouring countries, sending large portions of their wages back home every year to support relatives still inside the country. Data compiled by the International Labour Organization (ILO) suggests that the output of migrant workers accounts for over 6 percent of Myanmar’s total gross domestic product (GDP).
 
With a land border of over 2400 kilometres, Thailand receives the largest number of migrant workers from Myanmar with the promise of higher salaries and job opportunities. Over the last few decades Thailand’s economy has boomed becoming a manufacturing and production powerhouse in Southeast Asia. But with not enough Thai workers to meet its demand, according to the Mekong Migration Network, in 2021 over 4 million migrant workers came to work in Thailand from other countries in Southeast Asia and according to a study by Mahidol University in Bangkok in 2020 over 80% of those came from Myanmar.

Improved systems means many cross legally with official paperwork but many cross illegally, brought over by smugglers for a sizeable fee. Once on the Thai side of the border life can be hard with labour rights abuses and harassment frequently reported.

Various sectors employ the vast majority, namely the fishing industry, agriculture and construction. Often living in isolated communities their existence in Thailand can be invisible to the average person. Whether living in makeshift corrugated iron houses or in remote small wooden one-room houses in the middle of a plantation, they often live on the fringes of society.

This photo-story commissioned by Winrock International and with additional photographs from an assignment with The New York Times, offers an insight into the lives of Myanmar’s migrant workers in Thailand in the places where they live and work, showing the hard reality for many. Most would return to Myanmar immediately if the situation improves, but most have come to terms with the fact that that is unlikely to happen anytime soon.
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