Migration Context

As a country of origin, destination and transit, the Kingdom of Thailand plays an important role in international migration in the region.  Its position as a middle-income country, sharing four land borders with Myanmar, Laos, Cambodia and Malaysia, presents a complex and unique set of issues and challenges when speaking about migration. Its openness to two-way exchange of international investment, trade and tourism with other countries has resulted in large flows of international migration, including that of refugees, displaced persons, professional migrants and labour migrants.

The nature of economic development in a more globalized world has strengthened the role of international migration in the economy of Thailand. Because of its relatively prosperous and stable economy, Thailand has attracted millions of migrants from neighbouring countries looking for a better standard of living. Sectors such as fishing, agriculture, hospitality, domestic work and manufacturing are heavily reliant on migrant workers for manpower. Over 80 percent of Thailand’s migrant stock comes from just three countries – Cambodia, Lao People’s Democratic Republic and Myanmar. Their presence signals the economic success of the Thai economy which provides higher wages and better job opportunities.

The country has also traditionally hosted hundreds of thousands of nationals from neighbouring countries, who have fled their homelands due to war, internal conflict or national instability. Currently, an estimated 105,000 refugees reside in nine refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar border.  

In addition, Thailand has been successful in promoting and deploying large numbers of workers to work abroad, although figures have been gradually decreasing due to increased prosperity and a national unemployment rate of less than 1 per cent.

As both outbound and inbound international migration has increased, private recruitment and placement agencies have been established that promote and facilitate migration. Challenges however remain. The key migration challenge for the government is irregular migration, including smuggling and trafficking in persons, and its impact on the labour market and public health. Of the 4 - 5 million migrants that estimated to be living and working in Thailand, about 1 - 2.5 million are thought to hold irregular status. High costs, long waiting times and bureaucratic red-tape discourage many from entering to work in Thailand through legal routes. The lack of effective law enforcement has also contributed to several pressing issues such as poor working conditions, exploitation, human smuggling and trafficking, and transnational crime.

Since Thailand joined the International Organization for Migration (IOM) as a member state 30 years ago in 1986, the country has made impressive strides in protecting the rights of migrants while acknowledging their contributions. In recent years, the Royal Thai Government has taken on a practical and innovative approach in developing its own migration management model. In this context, bilateral memoranda of understanding (MoUs) with neighbouring countries have been signed in labour migration and counter-trafficking. IOM continues to strengthen its partnership with the government and the international community to meet the growing challenges of implementing the MoUs and advancing migration management in Thailand.

In this context, IOM seeks to help ensure the orderly and humane management of migration, to promote international cooperation on migration issues, to assist in the search for practical solutions to migration problems and to provide humanitarian assistance to migrants in need, including refugees and internally displaced people.