Mi­grants take leap of faith away from fa­ther­land

The Myanmar Times - Weekend - - News - ZAW ZAW HTWE Ma Khin Mar Mi­grant worker

za­wza­whtwe@mm­times.com

“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...’

U Kyaw Soe Lwin swings the cra­dle of his grand­son at his home in Mae Sot. Photo: Zaw Zaw Htwe

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