Migration is a defining issue of the 21st century, and Myanmar is not an exception. Today, over 10 million Myanmar people, or 20 per cent of its population, are migrants, both internal and international. A variety of reasons exist in Myanmar which prompt people to move, including growing income gaps between Myanmar and neighbouring countries, income disparities across and within various employment sectors in Myanmar, an absence of viable livelihood opportunities in communities of origin, insecure land tenure and land grabbing, poor access to markets, differences in access to public infrastructure and social services, policies that have favoured big businesses over the rights of the rural poor, a weak legal and institutional framework and displacement due to environmental and man-made disasters.

The major shifts that the country is experiencing – industrialisation, urbanisation, greater connectivity, peace process, regional integration and climate change, to name a few – will further induce greater movements of people. The prospect of economic growth alone suggests that an additional 10 million people, or nearly one-third of Myanmar’s rural population of 36 million, will migrate from villages to cities to take up non-farm employment in a couple of decades. Accordingly, migration has increasingly become a widespread livelihood strategy for people in Myanmar. At the same time, a closer look at the migration dynamics of the regions clearly shows that migration takes place as a result of complex local conditions, including the proximity to livelihood opportunities and established social networks.

IOM Myanmar supports the Government of Myanmar’s on-going efforts to promote safe cross-border labour migration and to adopt a comprehensive and systematic approach to both the challenges and opportunities presented by growing international and internal migration. IOM’s work on labour migration and human development has the two-fold objective of; ensuring that labour migration is safe and beneficial; and of strengthening the link between labour migration and socio-economic development. In furthering such objectives, IOM and Myanmar’s Ministry of Labour, Immigration and Population (MOLIP) cooperated to develop the key strategic documents related to the management of international labour migration –The Five-Year National Plan of Action for the Management of International Labour Migration 2013–2017; and the Second Five-Year National Plan of Action for the Management of International Labour Migration 2018-2023 (2nd NPA). In addition to working with MOLIP, IOM also works with select members of Myanmar’s inter-ministerial Overseas Employment Supervisory Committee to promote enhanced migration management capacities. This cooperation includes a range of essential activities such as (i) supporting the Government in establishing Migrant Resource Centres (MRCs) which act as hubs for information on safe migration and complaints mechanisms; (ii) promoting ethical recruitment practices, including through the development of online and offline Information, Education and Communications materials to promote safe migration and the protection of migrant workers and; (iii) supporting the development of policy, legislation and bilateral MoUs, such as the aforementioned the 2nd NPA.

Main Projects

Migration as Livelihood Diversification Strategy in the Delta (MILDAS) is a project funded by the Livelihoods and Food Security Fund (LIFT), that examines migration and its relationship with development in the Ayeyarwady Delta. The project seeks to harness the positive effects of migration while mitigating its risks by providing trainings to local communities. This includes trainings on safe migration for aspirant migrants and members of migrant-sending households to encourage informed migration decisions, as well as trainings on remittance management to support family adaptation to the absence of a migrating family member. The project is also piloting innovative communal micro-credit facilities – community-managed revolving funds to support reductions in livelihood vulnerabilities of migrants, by for example, supporting the costs of livelihood/income generating activities of families at origin or by covering the transportation and settling costs of a migrating family member through low interest micro-loans.

Increasing the Developmental Impact of Labour Migration through Capacity Strengthening and Partnership (Twe Let) is a LIFT-funded project which aims to improve the governance and outreach capacities of national actors to harness the developmental impact of migration on Myanmar. Target beneficiaries of the Twe Let project are aspiring migrants and their families. The policy component of the project involves IOM’s technical support to MOLIP as it leads a whole-of-government process to support the implementation of the Second Five Year National Plan of Action for the Management of International Labour Migration 2018-2022. The community outreach component targets Chin State, Shan State, the Southeast region as well as the Dry Zone, and it is being implemented by a unique consortium of civil society organisations (CSO), including Chin Human Rights Organization (CHRO), Mon Women’s Coalition (MWC) and Parami Development Network (PDN). Twe Let’s community outreach has four main focus areas: pre-migration outreach, financial literacy, skills development and job matching. The pre-migration outreach pillar assists aspiring migrants and their families in making informed, safe and strategic decisions. The financial literacy pillar assists remittance-receiving households in managing the money they receive. The skills development pillar trains aspirant migrants and remittance receiving families with skills to seek better employment. In its second phase since July 2019, Twe Let also has a research component that is being implemented in partnership with the Centre for Economic and Social Development (CESD), Australian National University (ANU) and Metta Development Foundation. Through four research studies on migration and development in Myanmar, the research component aims to strengthen the migration research evidence base so as to support policy actors’ efforts to implement more effective migration and development policies.

Poverty Reduction through Safe Migration, Skills Development and Enhanced Job Placement (PROMISE) is a multi-year project funded by Swiss Development Cooperation (SDC) that IOM is implementing in close collaboration with relevant ministries in the target countries Cambodia, Laos, Myanmar, Thailand and Viet Nam (CLMTV), and that promotes poverty reduction in CLMTV. PROMISE supports migrants from CLMV, especially poor women, to have better employment opportunities and conditions in Thailand, through enhanced skills and knowledge of safe migration, leading to poverty reduction in communities of origin. In Myanmar, the project is being implemented in close collaboration with MOLIP and other relevant government agencies responsible for skills development and sending and receiving of labour migrants, as well as with private skills training providers and NGOs. Specific interventions include:

  • Support for the implementation of the 2nd NPA including providing technical and financial support for meetings of the Technical Working Group (TWG) to Oversee Effective Implementation of the 2nd NPA;
  • Promotion of ethical recruitment through capacity building and follow-up technical support for member agencies of the Myanmar Overseas Employment Agency Federation (MOEAF) on the International Recruitment Integrity System (IRIS);
  • Support for six MRCs around the country;
  • Enhancing skills development opportunities for migrant workers including cross-border skills development and job-matching in the hospitality, construction and manufacturing sectors.

Growing up in the time of increased mobility: Impact of migration on children in Myanmar is a research study funded by United Nations Children Fund (UNICEF). The main objective of this study is to fill in a knowledge gap about the lives of children affected by migration in Myanmar based on data drawn from their own perspective. It placed the children at the centre of the enquiry, rather than treating them as passive participants/benefactors of the process.

Strengthening Migrant Protection in Domestic and International Labour Supply Chains, funded by the IOM Development Fund, aims to contribute to a reduction of the abuse, extortion and exploitation experienced by Myanmar migrants in receiving countries such as Thailand, Malaysia, China and Korea. To achieve this goal, the project will (i) support MOLIP, MOFA and MSWRR consistently apply effective protection-oriented and gender-sensitive policies in support of Myanmar migrant workers through strengthening of pre-departure orientation and development of guidelines and accompanying check list for the incorporation of protection- and gender-sensitive content into bilateral labour agreements; and (ii) support Myanmar diplomatic personnel, including consular officials, labour attachés and MRC counsellors, respond consistently and effectively to protection concerns, complaints and requests for assistance of migrant workers abroad through development of operational guidelines on managing pre-departure, post-arrival and post-return complaints.

Past Projects

Capitalising Human Mobility for Poverty Alleviation and Inclusive Development for Myanmar (CHIME) was a LIFT-funded research project that contributed to the development of an informed dialogue on migration in Myanmar. Implemented by a consortium consisting of IOM, the University of Sussex and Metta Development Foundation, CHIME consisted of a mixed-method study on labour migration patterns and impacts at the individual, household and community levels in four regions of the country. Research findings were utilised to generate common, evidence-based migration narratives for influencing national and local stakeholders’ analyses and actions, in order to allow targeted actors to capitalise on mobility and create more effective development and poverty reduction interventions.