DRAFT - NOT FOR QUOTATION - 17 March 2009
Sources: aUNDP (2007); bPopulation Reference Bureau (2008)
Sources: aUNDP (2007); bPopulation Reference Bureau (2008); cADB (2007)
Thailand achieved its remarkable economic progress in the early 1990s before it suffered from the 1997 Asian financial crisis. The economy started to show signs of recovery in 1999, with real GDP at 4.1 percent. Thailand recorded strong growth prior to 2005 when the economy slowed down as a result of drought, avian flu, increasing oil prices and the tsunami of 26 December 2004. The Thai economy recovered in 2006 due to strong exports. The military coup that occurred in September 2006 generated political and economic instability. Nonetheless, the economy is expected to continue its strong growth in 2007. The economic crisis of 1997 resulted in high unemployment, but the unemployment rate continued to trend down, falling to 5.9 percent in 1999 to 1.8 percent in 2005.
The following are among the landmark events that have had a bearing on Thailand’s migration experience:
Since the early 1990s, Thailand has started to absorb foreign workers, mostly from the neighboring countries – Burma, Cambodia and Laos. Thailand seeks to improve its management of irregular migrant workers through bilateral cooperation with its neighbors. In 2002-2003, Thailand signed MoUs on the government-to-government recruitment of migrant workers with Cambodia, Laos and Burma that calls for the establishment of a regular labor migration scheme. In 1992, Thailand launched a registration program to identify irregular migrants and re-registrations were organized in 1996, 1998, 1999, 2000, 2001 and 2004. A total of 1,284,920 migrants showed up at the second amnesty in 2004, but only 343,777 were re-registered in June 2005. A total of 523,086 migrant workers registered for work permits in 2006, down from 705,293 in 2005. Among them, 456,083 were Burmese, compared to the 539,416 in 2005 (AMN, 15 July 2006). Meanwhile, close to 225,000 irregular migrants were detected and deported in 2005 (Migration News, 2006).
As of 2000, Thailand hosted a number of persons of concern specifically from Burma and Laos (see Table 1). To date, there are some 7,790 Hmong at a camp in the northern Thai province of Phetchabun (AMN, 15 September 2007). Another 150 are held in a detention center near the Thai-Lao border. In September 2007, Thailand and Laos decided to complete repatriation of the Hmong to Laos by 2008 (AMN, 30 September 2007). The two countries also agreed to handle the repatriation process without any outside help. A rising number of North Korean defectors also enter Thailand to seek asylum in South Korea or third countries. The Mekong River is a popular route for those who flee to China and Laos. In 2003, only 40 North Koreans were caught for unauthorized entry, but their numbers were expected to reach 1,000 by the end of 2007 (AMN, 15 April 2007).
Thailand participated in labor migration in the mid-1970s, with an increasing number of Thai workers migrating to the Middle East. A diplomatic incident in the late 1980s with Saudi Arabia brought that migration to a sharp decrease (IOM, 2003). The major labor flows from Thailand have since been re-directed to East and Southeast Asian countries, such as Japan, Taiwan, Singapore, Malaysia, Brunei, Hong Kong and Korea. In 1994-2000, East Asia countries hosted more than 60 percent of the registered Thai workers in the world (Tsay, 2002). Taiwan in particular receives the biggest share of Thai migrant workers. Thais comprise the largest group of foreign workers in Taiwan, with some 94,000 employed largely in the construction sector (AMN, 31 August 2005). In August 2005, Thai workers staged a protest in Taiwan over alleged discrimination and substandard living and working conditions. This prompted Thai authorities to temporarily halt the deployment of Thai workers to Taiwan. The number of deployed Thai workers peaked at some 202,000 in 1995, but the total declined to about 150,000 in 2003 and 2004 (Huguet and Punpuing, 2005).
Asian Development Bank (ADB)
2007 “Southeast Asia: Thailand.” In Asian Development Outlook 2007. Available at
http://www.adb.org/documents/books/ADO/2007/THA.asp, accessed on 8 December 2008.
Asian Migration News (AMN) Various Years
International Organization for Migration (IOM)
2003 Labour Migration in Asia: Trends, Challenges and Policy Responses in Countries of Origin. Geneva, Switzerland: IOM.
Huguet, Jerrold W. and Sureeporn Punpuing
2005 International Migration in Thailand. Bangkok, Thailand: IOM.
2007 “No Democracy Yet in Thailand.” Available at http://www.ahrci.org/index.php?doc=bbs /gnuboard.php&bo_table=asia_writing&page=3&wr_id=110& PHPSESSID=95dba1a4d502b68af4968673b99, accessed on 18 January 2008.
2006 “Southeast Asia.” Available at http://migration.ucdavis.edu/mn/more.php?id=3192_0_3_0, accessed on 18 January 2008.
Population Reference Bureau
2008 “2008 World Population Data Sheet.” Available at http://www.prb.org/pdf08/08WPDS_Eng.pdf, accessed on 21 November 2008.
2002 “Labour Migration and Regional Changes in East Asia: Outflows of Thai Workers to Taiwan.” A Paper presented at the IUSSP Southeast Asia’s Population in a Changing Asian Context, Bangkok, Thailand, 10-13 June.
Available at http://www.iussp.org/Bangkok2002/S14Tsay.pdf, assessed on 19 January 2008.
United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)
2007 “Human Development Report 2007/2008.” Available at http://hdrstats.undp.org/countries/data_sheet/cty_ds_THA.html, accessed on 9 December 2008.
Refugees, Asylum Seekers and Internally Displaced Persons in Thailand as of December 2000
1 Note: This table includes two categories of uprooted people: refugees who are unwilling or unable to return to their home countries because they fear persecution or armed conflict there and who lack a durable solution; and asylum seekers who are awaiting a refugee status determination.
2 Note: Many persons live in situations similar to those of refugees, but do not meet the narrow refugee definition. Some are regarded by host governments simply as illegal aliens; others are tolerated or ignored. In many such cases, and often in the absence of credible refugee determination procedures, it is difficult to determine who among them might be refugees. Some refugee-like people are stateless, denied the protection afforded by citizenship.
3 Source: World Refugee Survey 2001, Immigration and Refugee Services of America 2001
4 Source: World Refugee Survey 2001, Immigration and Refugee Services of America 2001
5 Source: Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development 2000 "Trends in International Migration" Paris: OECD Publications, Table A.1.4
6 Source: World Refugee Survey 2001, Immigration and Refugee Services of America 2001
 Kampf (2007) see http://www.ahrci.org/index.php?doc=bbs/gnuboard.php &bo_table=asia_writing&page=3&wr_id=110&
 http://apmrn.usp.ac.fj/conferences/8thAPMRNconference/ 19.Thai%20Policies%20towards%20migrant%20workers.pdf, assessed on 18 January 2008 (Could not be displayed)
Jerrold W. Huguet and Sureepom Punpuing (2005).