Photo: UN Women / Pornvit Visitoran

Women clean fish in Rayong, Thailand, around 100 kilometres southeast of Bangkok. Photo: UN Women / Pornvit Visitoran.

Objectives of the research

The Samut Sakhon Province is home to Thailand’s biggest fishing and seafood processing port market and to the world’s largest seafood processing industry which attract many migrant workers. According to latest estimates, there are 660,000 migrant workers in Samut Sakhon, 60% of which are undocumented. Out of these 660,000 migrant workers in the province, 400,000 come from Myanmar. On the other hand, Phuket is a tourism hotspot which is also a key destination for Myanmar migrant workers, mainly employed in fisheries and construction which directly contribute to the tourism industry. Phuket was the first Thai province to reopen to international tourists in July 2021 under the “Sandbox” programme, which was made possible with a massive vaccination campaign. However, migrant workers in the province are mostly undocumented and not directly working in the tourism industry, resulting in their exclusion from the vaccination programme while infection cases keep rising among these vulnerable communities. Given that Thailand’s second wave of Covid-19 infections started among migrant workers in Samut Sakhon, and that the Sandbox programme is one of Thailand’s strategies to adapt to the pandemic, , this research seeks to understand the impact that the outbreak had on migrant communities and whether there were specific disaster risk reduction measures in place to mitigate potential risks.

This project will examine how the migratory patterns of migrant workers are impacted by disasters (such as the Covid-19 pandemic and environmental hazards) and by related disaster risk reduction (DRR) measures.

The Samut Sakhon and Phuket provinces in Thailand will be the case study sites to explore if, and how, DRR measures address the vulnerabilities of migrant workers in times of environmental and health crisis. The aim of this research is to analyze compounding vulnerabilities to provide evidence for more holistic and inclusive DRR and labor migration policies.


In Thailand, migrant workers from neighboring countries play a significant role in the economy. Among the socio-economic and political factors that shape migration, the impacts of climate change in the region are having an increased influence on other traditional migration drivers. Both at origin and in destination, vulnerable populations are overrepresented in natural resource-dependent economic sectors such as fisheries, which are particularly vulnerable to environmental change. Migrant workers, in particular, tend to be disproportionately affected by slow and sudden onset events, including the current pandemic.

Following all types of disasters, migrants often choose or have to return to their home country, but without migration policies that facilitate safe return and reintegration, migrants may be put into increasingly vulnerable positions. For example, the 2004 tsunami particularly impacted migrant workers in Phuket: many of them lost their lives and livelihoods but did not have access to timely assistance and feared deportation when seeking help. Similarly, during the 2011 floods in Thailand, many migrant workers lost their jobs in Samut Sakhon and had to pay expensive fees to brokers to return to their country of origin when in fear of deportation or imprisonment. In response to the Covid-19 outbreak in March 2020, Thailand took strict measures to limit the spread of the virus by closing international and provincial borders. Following this between 60,000 and 200,000 migrants in Thailand headed back to Myanmar, Cambodia and Laos (IOM, 2020). Despite travel restrictions and mandatory quarantines imposed by Thailand, migration flows did not stop, as neighboring countries were harshly affected by the pandemic compared to Thailand who managed to stay several months without cases of local transmission. However, these irregular flows became more visible in December 2020, where a Covid-19 outbreak started in Samut Sakhon and undocumented Myanmar migrant workers were blamed for bringing the virus back to Thailand. Covid-19 and its policy responses have reshaped human (im)mobility in the region, urging us to reconsider migration and other adaptation strategies in the context of disasters.