Ko Aye migrated from Myanmar to Thailand shortly before the COVID-19 pandemic struck. Photo: IOM/Miko Alazas
Mae Sot, Thailand - Ko Aye Kyaw was a farmer in Mandalay, Myanmar before deciding to migrate in 2019 in pursuit of a better life. “We had no stability, so I moved to Thailand.”
Ko Aye arrived in the Thai border city of Mae Sot. Known as the main gateway between Myanmar and Thailand, Mae Sot is home to tens of thousands of migrants from Myanmar. He and his wife found jobs in a factory near the community where they lived, along with dozens of other migrants from Myanmar.
Things were looking up for Ko Aye as he began to earn a decent living. However, this all came to a shuddering halt when the COVID-19 pandemic sent shockwaves across every corner of the world.
“The factory had to shut down, so I was suddenly without a job. I had to borrow money from my neighbours and from my supervisor, who offered a lower interest rate.” recalls Ko Aye. “In the community, we really helped each other. We took care of those who got COVID-19.”
Ko Aye’s experience during the pandemic is not unique. Like so many other migrant workers who suddenly found themselves unemployed, his situation became increasingly precarious.
Mg Hla and her husband Ma Khin Kyi faced a similar situation after traveling to Mae Sot to be with their children who had migrated earlier in search of jobs. “I used to work at a wood factory, but now it has been over two years without a job,” Mg says.
Mg and Ma Khin were among 897 migrants from Myanmar who benefited from relief assistance. Photo: IOM/Miko Alazas
To help ends meet during this difficult period, the couple, and others like Ko, were offered a lifeline. They were among the 249 migrant workers impacted by the pandemic, who received direct cash assistance, ranging from 2,000 to 4,000 Thai Baht (approximately USD 55 to 105) per month, from the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and World Vision Foundation of Thailand (WVFT). Including dependents, a total of 1,285 people benefited for up to three months.
IOM and WVFT followed an evaluation process to evaluate and select the most vulnerable migrants in need of assistance. Criteria included monthly income, debt, number of dependents, health conditions, among others.
“Migrants have been among the hardest hit by the pandemic. In Thailand, migrant workers have long been essential to socioeconomic development; they also provide a lifeline for their communities back home. It is critical that they are included in response and recovery plans. We cannot leave them behind,” advocates Géraldine Ansart, IOM’s Chief of Mission in Thailand.
Ko Aye, Mg and Ma Khin all used the assistance to purchase essential supplies and pay back debts accumulated over the pandemic. Mg was able to pay medical expenses for an eye condition that required treatment.
Ko Aye has used part of the assistance to buy and sell items in his community. “I buy household goods and food at the local market, then sell them to my neighbours.” Not everyone can travel to the local market, so Ko Aye’s service has been welcomed by his neighbours, while allowing him to earn extra income.
Today, Ko Aye and his wife are back at work. Photo: IOM/Miko Alazas
As borders slowly reopen and economic activity comes back to life, they are all looking forward to better days ahead.
The direct cash assistance was made possible through Corporate Responsibility to Eliminate Slavery and Trafficking (CREST), an initiative that supports businesses in upholding the human and labour rights of migrant workers in key sectors and migration corridors, funded by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (SIDA).
This story was written by Miko Alazas, IOM’s Media and Communications Officer in Thailand.