While recognizing the importance of migrant labor to economic growth, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) is more concerned with regulating their mobility than addressing inhumane and restrictive national control of cross-border populations, concludes a recently published paper by Shan scholar Sai S.W. Latt.
One glaring example is the Greater Mekong Sub-region (GMS) programme supported by the Bank. Its 5 strategic thrusts for migrant workers comprise education and skills development, safe labor migration, disease control, social development and strengthening institutional links.
Migration routes from Myanmar to Thailand
But according to its strategic framework (2009-12), funding for safe labor migration is less than $ 1 million, far less than for disease control ($ 96.7 million) and anti-human trafficking ($ 30.4 million). “Similarly, the ADB has not appointed officials for migrant protection,” the paper Managing migration in the Greater Mekong Sub-region: Regulation, extra-legal legation and extortion, Singapore journal of Tropical Geography, 2013, reads. “Migrants are only subject to formal and informal forms of regulation within each country.”
As a result, research shows that regulation of mobility in each country is not being relaxed. Thailand, for instance, has treated migration as though it can be ‘turned on and off at will.’
The 1999 migrant registration, he writes, allowed for migrants to work only in 37 provinces, down from 54 in 1998. The revised regulation generated new undocumented migrants who had registered outside these 37 provinces one year earlier. Such ad hoc practices continue into the 2000s, sustaining what de Geneva (2002) calls ‘the legal production of migrant “illegality”,’ in which legal processes include migrants by transforming them into illegal subjects.