Relief provided to 4,500 return migrant workers in Lao People’s Democratic Republic

Vientiane (ILO News) – The Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare has received support of US$35,000 from the International Labour Organization to provide immediate relief supplies and information to 4,500 return Lao migrant workers during their two-week stay at quarantine centres. Jointly funded by the ILO’s Ship to Shore Rights South East Asia and TRIANGLE in ASEAN programmes, the assistance will target key provinces where returns have increased in recent months due to the third wave outbreak of COVID-19 in Thailand, including Champasak, Salavan, Bokeo, Xayabuly and Vientiane.

Handover of personal protective equipment and food at the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare, Lao PDR, on 7 September 2021 © ILO

According to United Nations data, there are 1.3 million Lao nationals living abroad, with Thailand the largest destination country. Lao migrant workers are predominantly employed in domestic work, construction, manufacturing, agriculture, seafood processing and entertainment work, mainly in neighbouring border provinces and larger cities in Thailand. Financial remittances from these workers are a significant source of income in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic, totalling an estimated US$265 million in 2020.

However, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a severely negative effect on the livelihoods of Lao migrants, with more than 140,000 returning as of July 2021. Coupled with major job losses and declining income for migrant workers remaining in destination countries, the amount of remittances sent home to the Lao People’s Democratic Republic has reduced substantially. These transfers serve to diversify and smoothen household income and are particularly critical to strengthening the financial resilience of women and rural populations.

In addition to providing emergency assistance to returning migrant workers during their quarantine period, the Ministry of Labour and Social Welfare will deliver information to support them in finding local employment options. This will include information about vocational training opportunities and job openings within the labour market to help restore their household income.

“Thousands of Lao migrant workers are now returning home due to loss of income and employment in destination countries. In many cases, these women and men migrant workers were the sole breadwinners for their families, providing a lifeline to households in poor rural areas. It is critical that we ensure that they are able to quarantine under safe and dignified conditions, as well as support them to find new employment opportunities upon returning home,” said Ms. Khemphone Phaokhamkeo, National Coordinator for the International Labour Organization in Lao People’s Democratic Republic.

Mr. Dan Heldon, Deputy Head of Mission at the Australian Embassy in Lao PDR, DFAT, emphasized: “In collaboration with ILO, our TRIANGLE in ASEAN program has reached more than 42,000 migrant workers with COVID-19 emergency assistance and legal assistance since the beginning of the pandemic. The Australian Government is committed to supporting returned migrant workers to Lao PDR in these times of need. We will also continue to work together on the longer-term support through the established Migrant Worker Resource Centres.”

The EU Deputy Head of Delegation, Ms. Baiba Zarina also highlighted the importance to support Government’s efforts against the pandemic in this difficult time: “The European Union in cooperation with the ILO is pleased to support the efforts of the Government of the Lao PDR to ensure the health and wellbeing of the Lao people, especially those in the most vulnerable situations”.

Ship to Shore Rights South East Asia is a multi-country, multi-year initiative of the European Union (EU) and the United Nations (UN). Ship to Shore Rights is implemented by the ILO in collaboration with IOM and UNDP, with the overall objective of promoting regular and safe labour migration and decent work for all migrant workers in the fishing and seafood processing sectors in Southeast Asia. The programme addresses the characteristics of working in the fishing and seafood processing sectors as well as the barriers and risks present in the migration system, which can lead to unsafe migration, decent work deficits, abuse and forced labour.

The TRIANGLE in ASEAN programme extends the cooperation between the International Labour Organization, the Australian Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade and Global Affairs Canada on protecting migrant workers and enhancing development opportunities. TRIANGLE in ASEAN aims to ensure that the benefits of labour migration are equally realized by men and women migrant workers; employers and governments. In shifting emphasis towards leveraging the development potential of migration, TRIANGLE in ASEAN aims to shape labour migration opportunities to support inclusive and sustainable growth in the ASEAN region.

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