Reintegration Challenges

Comprehensive reintegration programmes are not available in most of the six main migrant-sending states (Indonesia, Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar and Vietnam) in ASEAN. Though the Philippines has been implementing measures to integrate returnees into its labour market, these initiatives have been limited in effectiveness in the past. More research on reintegration needs to be done and more data is required.

Most Cambodian returnees are unable to integrate into the local workforce as the labour market is saturated and there is no programme to facilitate job security. The climate in the country is not conducive for agricultural activities. Fishing could be an option but it rarely yields any profit. Cambodian migrants have expressed their desire to return home if working conditions and wages improve. Like most migrants, they prefer to live and work in their homeland. Regrettably, there is no government initiative to ensure their means of survival upon return. Furthermore, many do not have opportunities in the host country to improve their skills. When they return, they are not in a position to add value to their labour market which is operating at a sub-optimal standard.

The Cambodian government has claimed that it will improve returnees’ situation. Providing information on available local jobs, incentivising agriculture by allotting plots of land and confirming wages are some steps proposed by the labour ministry. But plans need to be executed promptly, given the thousands of undocumented Cambodian migrants who have been repatriated from Thailand.

On 18 January 2017, the Philippines signed a Memorandum of Agreement (MOA) with the International Organisation for Migration (IOM) on ‘Enhancing the Reintegration Programme for OFWs (Overseas Filipino Workers)’. The objectives of this initiative are as follow:

  1. Adoption of a national masterplan for migrant reintegration.
  2. Adoption of guidelines on reintegration.
  3. A handbook on products and services offered by relevant institutions.
  4. A menu on reintegration processes.
  5. ISO certification of reintegration service delivery systems.
  6. Trained reintegration counsellors and duty bearers.

The main endorsement for the Philippines’ programme would be the ISO certification. If this is accomplished, the MOA could pave the way for similar initiatives in ASEAN’s less developed sending states. With regional support and an endorsed policy, more origin countries would be encouraged to get on board. This should be done in stages and efforts should correspond to the resources available, especially because member states are at different levels of development.

In Indonesia, reintegration programmes are sparsely available at the local level. There are attempts in Vietnam to job-match and encourage firms to employ returnees. Laos and Thailand have agreed to issue certificates of employment to Laotians returning home; an attempt to facilitate reintegration into the local labour market. The outcome is not known. Myanmar has not implemented any reintegration initiative.

If a migrant chooses to return to the origin country, several factors could influence this decision. The perceived economic situation in the homeland, employment opportunities, debt-level, ownership of property or land, membership in organisations, perceived safety, access to justice and trust in the government are key points of consideration for returnees. A programme assisting migrants to voluntarily return would be more effective if both sending and receiving states could cooperate. Origin countries could disseminate as much information as possible on reintegration measures, to the relevant authorities in host countries; the latter could then ensure that migrants have access to that information. This is not a popular course of action as often, migrants are in a situation where they have to return home; they do not have a choice. Those who are able to remain in receiving states have the primary goal of sustaining their income.

Origin countries need to incentivise return. They have to ensure that the domestic environment is appealing enough to draw migrants home. More importantly, migrants should have an incentive to stay in their homeland and not remigrate; this can be achieved only over a substantial period of time.

An estimated 45,000 undocumented Cambodian migrant workers returning home from Thailand, due to fears of a crackdown on illegal foreign labourers by the ruling military junta. 8 June 2014, Southeast Asia Globe.

Leave a Reply