Migrants take leap of faith away from fatherland
“WE are not happy here. But, we can’t live where we are happy” said Ma Khin Mar, 47 years old, when asked about how she feels living away from home.
Ma Khin Mar, a mother of three, has worked in Mae Sot, Tak Province in Thailand for nearly 10 years, selling food in front of a Thai-owned garment factory, where over 330 Myanmar migrants work.
Although she is living in Mae Sot as a legal migrant, her work as a vendor is illegal.
“Myanmar citizens are not allowed to sell here. We have to run away if authorities come to arrest us. We also have to pay the police so we can get back the goods we are selling,” Ma Khin Mar told The Myanmar Times.
Myanmar migrants in Mae Sot said Thai police frequently investigate and arrest them because they know most of them are working illegally.
“We have to give as much as they ask for when our cases have been filed. I also have to pay a bribe of 300 baht (K12,131) monthly so we would not be arrested,” she said.
Ma Khin Mar, a divorcee, lives alone in a chamber and pays rental of 2500 baht per month.
She has two daughters who are working in a garment factory in Bangkok, while her youngest son was living with his grandparents in Kawt Htin village in Khauk Hto townhip, Mon State.
Ma Khin Mar said her two daughters are supporting their brother who is studying.
“It has been 10 years since I left my son. I want to go home, but it’s not okay for me to live and work there,” she said.
She also said that she and her daughter will have to live and work abroad a few more years in order to support her son who is now in grade 11. She wants him to be well-educated.
Another person who has been living in Mae Sot for 6 years and who also dream of home is U Kyaw Soe Lwin, 51, originally from Mandalay Region.
U Kyaw Soe Lwin, who lived with his mother in Mandalay, came to Mae Sot to work because he was asked by his son who is employed in a workshop in Mae Sot.
He has stopped working recently after several years of working on construction sites for a daily wage of 210 baht. Now, he is looking after his two grandsons.
“I want to go home. It has been six years since I last visited Myanmar. I miss my country and I want to meet my mom,” U Kyaw Soe Lwin said, while gently swinging the cradle of his grandson.
The Myanmar Times reporter saw U Kyaw Soe Lwin’s family lives in relative comfort with a big television, refrigerator and sofa in their room. There was also a picture of the Thai King and the royal family hanging on the wall.
Still another migrant longing to see her country but who would rather not return because of painful memories is Ma Khine, 41.
When I met with her, she was feeding her baby. Her voice cracked as she told me about how they lost their farm back in Myanmar. Tears rolled down her cheeks.
Their family used to farm rice paddy fields in Min Hla township in Bago Region. But they were not able to pay their creditors due to bad harvests; and one by one they lost their fields.
She came to Mae Sot illegally 12 years ago and worked in a garment factory and later as a housemaid for two years.
She has been working for a famous restaurant, Tor Mai, as a chef for nearly 10 years.
She started as a helper, then became waiter and moved on to become a cashier. She learned how to cook and eventually became a chef and mastered cooking Thai food.
“I started from zero. Now, I am very OK here. I can buy many paddy fields and I can save a lot of money here,” Ma Khine said.
She said she can save her monthly income of 8000 baht because she doesn’t need to spend on anything and lives in the restaurant. Her husband also works in a shop in Mae Sot and earns 350 baht daily.
“I don’t want to live in Myanmar because I feel hurt about the memories of the tragedy that befell our family,” she said.
Ma Khine said Tor Moi restaurant is owned by an officer of Thitsarpan department (Mae Sot city development committee) and about 10 Myanmar migrant workers have been employed in the restaurant.
Ma Khine also said that the owner family of Tor Mai Restaurant is very kind and treats her and other migrants as family members.
“My employers are very good natured. They are like our father and mother. Their daughters are also kind and treat me as if I am their real sister, so we can live here for a long time,” Ma Khine said.
There are an estimated 200,000 Myanmar migrant workers living in Mae Sot, according to Myanmar migrant rights groups.
Daily, 500 to 1000 Myanmar workers go to Thailand under the memorandum of understanding between the two countries.
According to the Myanmar Oversea Employment Agencies Federation, about 200,000 Myanmar workers leave the country every month due to lack of job opportunities and high prices of basic commodities in their homeland.
‘Myanmar citizens are not allowed to sell here. We have to run away if authorities come to arrest us...’