Failing 6.9 Million Migrants: An Analysis of ASEAN

They go unnoticed and unprotected in unfamiliar places, but the 6.9 million migrant workers of the ASEAN (Association of Southeast Asian Nations) region play an important role in the economy. In 2014, remittances to the Philippines and Vietnam alone amounted to 10% and 6.4% of the countries’ respective GDPs--28 billion and 12 billion USD. Both regionally and globally, the importance of growing migrant worker populations in the economy can not be understated. Despite providing much-needed childcare, building infrastructure, and taking on domestic roles in foreign countries, these workers face dangerous conditions due to government inaction.

On account of their socioeconomic backgrounds, these migrants are often forced into unskilled and low-wage jobs, prevalent with unsafe working conditions, exploitation, debt bondage, human trafficking, and more.

(SOURCE: Flickr/ILO in Asia and the Pacific)

Poor Backgrounds, Grim Futures

A consideration of the origin, or “sending countries”, for the majority of migrant workers quickly reveals the factors behind their migration: economic prosperity. Young men and an increasing number of women seeking better job opportunities come most often from Cambodia, Lao PDR, Vietnam, Indonesia, and Myanmar. While Thailand was one of the largest and most progressive in policy regarding migrant workers’ rights in the 1990s, the country has since shifted to a net destination country. Due to the sharp economic disparity between origin and destination countries (i.e. Thailand, Singapore, Brunei Darussalam, and Malaysia), as well as labor shortages in receiving states, the number of migrant workers has increased by fivefold since the 1990s.

Women in particular have been affected by the sharp rise in migration. In 1990, women made up 0.6 million migrants; the number rose to 3.3 million in 2017. Although they comprise almost half of