Intra-ASEAN Migration

Migration to Malaysia, Singapore and Thailand from other ASEAN states has multiplied over the past decade. Studies estimate that 99% of migrants from Brunei Darussalam have Malaysia as their destination. It is also the receiving country for 86% of Indonesian migrants; 39% of Filipino migrants; 75% of Singaporean migrants; and 62% of Vietnamese migrants. Singapore receives 96% of Malaysian migrants; 28% of Filipino migrants; 18% of Thai migrants; and 13% of Indonesian migrants. Thailand is the destination country for 98% of Cambodian migrants; 99% of Lao migrants; and 88% of Myanmarese migrants.  Intra-ASEAN migration has increased substantially. Relative to other global regions, intra-regional mobility is the most prominent in ASEAN. The close proximity of better earnings could be a contributing factor to this phenomenon. It is important to understand that the researched statistics reflect only documented migration. Moreover, these figures do not represent migration inflow to ASEAN from countries outside its jurisdiction.

Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Vietnam make up Continental Southeast Asia. This sub-region is notorious for trafficking and large flows of undocumented migrants. There is no record of the size of this growing pool as the modus operandi of illegal syndicates has become more intricate, with the easy availability of advanced technology. It has been found that undocumented migration to Thailand from Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam is significantly cheaper, faster and easier. These undocumented migrants, while managing to secure menial jobs and contributing to the Thai economy, simultaneously subject themselves to exploitation. It is possible to curb this growing phenomenon with a systematic and strict regulatory system, as opposed to a rigid policy. The objective should be to make documented migration processes simpler, faster and more affordable. For the large number of undocumented migrants already residing in Thailand, formalisation measures should be undertaken promptly. The prevalence of corruption is likely to pose challenges.

54% of ASEAN migration is made of up mobility from Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar, to Thailand. 22% of ASEAN migration occurs from Myanmar, Vietnam, Indonesia and Singapore, to Malaysia. 19% of ASEAN migration comprises mobility from Indonesia and Malaysia, to Singapore. These three corridors (Thailand, Malaysia and Singapore) account for 95% of intra-ASEAN migration. Most of this movement occurs from less developed countries to more developed and developed, wealthier economies.

This calls for a coordinated management system to govern human mobility. It could be in the form of a collective regional migration policy. Alternatively, considering the fact that ASEAN states do not have national policies dedicated to migration, it could be in the form of a collective framework for action consisting of bilateral agreements. ASEAN’s underlying principles of non-interference and consensus may hinder such efforts. However, for regional productivity and growth to be optimized, traditional boundaries need to be reviewed. Facilitating the movement of goods alone will not be enough in the future.

Migrant fishermen from Myanmar, on a Thai fishing boat unloading fish, at a jetty in Samut Prakan (Thailand).

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