Burmese migrant stories in Thailand

Maung Shwe Tain – 28 year old

28 year-old Maung Shwe Tain spends an average of 23 days a month at sea. He is one of thousands of Burmese fishermen working in Phang Nga, southern Thailand.  "We start in the evening, work all night long and come back in the morning. It's hard, very physical and the pay is low," says Tain, who makes 5000 baht per month, "but in my country there are no rights and freedoms. I can't survive economically and I won't go back until the situation changes."

Shwe Tain comes from Chin State, a mountainous area in western Myanmar. He left his country three years ago and has since been working in Thailand for various employers. "I used to live in the boat for two to three weeks but now we catch squid, we come back every morning and I'm sharing a room near the pier with four other Burmese."

Shwe Tain is not registered, has no identification papers and says no one on the boat has a work or a resident permit, but his employer is taking care of any transportation and hospital fees. "I'm lucky because not all employers are like that," explains Tain who had to go to the hospital once, after he cut his hand badly. "On other boats, I've heard fishermen pay for their treatment when they get sick."  But with salaries way under the minimum wage in Thailand, many are reluctant to seek treatment especially because they fear the police might arrest them on their way to the hospital.

"MSF's Mobile clinics have been very useful in keeping us informed about our health," says Tain, "A lot of people here go to karaoke bars and they know nothing about safe sex and infectious diseases."


Ma Tan Sain – 27 year-old

Ma Tan Sain is from Dawei, in southern Myanmar, near the border with Thailand. She followed her husband a year and a half ago when he began working as a fisherman in Phang Nga. While pregnant with her third child, she was diagnosed HIV positive at Tablamu clinic, where MSF provides free antenatal care to migrants.

Tan Sain knew little about HIV at the time. She began her prevention of mother to child transmission (PMTCT) treatment after receiving counselling from MSF. "In my country we don't talk much about these things. When I realised I was HIV positive, I told my husband and he said, "Where did you get this, it can't be from me, I don't take drugs."
Tan Sains husband earns little money and raising her family is very difficult. She left a child in Myanmar, whom she misses greatly. "I would much rather live in Myanmar because I don't want this new child to be illiterate and he can't go to school here, but in Myanmar there is no work and too many problems" she stresses.

Tan Sain is also concerned about the discrimination and stigma she could face in her community in Myanmar if people realised she was HIV positive.  It is too early to test her baby for HIV. But Tan Sain is one of the few who, helped by MSF, managed to get a health card and will be able to receive free health care from the Thai national health system for her and her baby.


Maung Tan Win – 32 year-old

Maung Tan Win has been living in Thailand for 9 years. "Back home in Myanmar, my father was arrested several times after being accused of supporting the opposition and I was forced to work for three years for free as a porter for the army and doing rail work." He explains. Once in Thailand, Tan Win worked in a prawn farm and obtained a work permit. "From 2005 to 2006 with this permit I was able to access free health care through the Thai national health system, but in 2005 I became temporary jobless." When Tan Win finally found a new job, he was unable to get his work permit.  "I changed employer but getting a new work permit was complex and the registration was expensive. It was impossible to sort out my papers."

This left him with no legal status and no health card. "I work in a rubber plantation now, but if I get sick, I can't get help from my employer or through the hospital. With a salary of 250 baht per day it's difficult." Tan Win and his pregnant wife realised they were both HIV positive, when she came for antenatal care at the MSF clinic. "It's been very hard, because life is complicated enough already, but at least we can have our drugs for free and we hope the baby won't be infected."