IOM Myanmar

Migration within Myanmar and across its long borders, which cover Thailand, Laos, China, India and Bangladesh, is subject to a range of drivers which are complex and are critical in affecting how and why people decide to move.

Of the 53.9 million people living within Myanmar, 70 per cent live in rural areas. Following the general election held on 8 November 2015 there have been dramatic economic and cultural changes which have brought an increase in foreign investment and has also been a driver of urbanization and rural to urban migration. Many people migrate internally as they want to improve their livelihoods, to follow their family members, for marriage, for education or to avoid poor socio-economic conditions. In 2014, 9.39 million people were internal migrants (which is approximately 20% of the population).

Regionally, Myanmar has grown to be the largest migration source country in the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS). The Myanmar Government estimate that there are 4.25 million Myanmar nationals living abroad. Regionally, drivers of migration can include higher wages in neighbouring countries, conflict and environmental migration due to natural disasters among other factors.

It is also reported that up to 70% of migrants living abroad are based in Thailand, followed by Malaysia (15%), China (4.6%), Singapore (3.9%) and the USA (1.9%). IOM estimates there could be as many as 3 million Myanmar migrants living in Thailand as at 2016. The highest numbers of migrants, according to the latest census, came from Mon State (427,000), Kayin State (323,000) and Shan State (236,000). 

The protection of migrants within Myanmar and in their destination countries is a national priority for the Government. Migrants are often vulnerable to poorer health access and treatment and IOM works with the Myanmar Government and a range of international and local partners to improve migrant health outcomes. Migrants, whether travelling regularly or irregularly can become victims of trafficking and smuggled migrants who are exposed to abuses such as extortion, debt bondage and physical exploitation.

However, the majority of migrants do not experience these issues. Migration brings huge benefits, fuelling growth and innovation in both their host and source countries. Myanmar migrants in the region send large amounts of remittances which help boost the economy, much of it through unofficial channels. While official estimates are that Myanmar only receives $118 million USD in remittances in 2015, the then Ministry of Labour, Employment and Social Security estimated that remittances could be as high as $8 billion USD.1  

Promoting the mainstreaming of migrant issues into Government policy and programmes, building capacity of our partners and ensuring effective advocacy and protection of Myanmar migrants are national priorities for the management migration in Myanmar.

1(2015) World Bank, Migration and Development Brief 25 – Migration and Remittances – Recent Developments and Outlook, p.14


Report, Briefs and Factsheets