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Census report: 4.25 million people born in Myanmar now live abroad


People walk through a street market in Yangon. Photo: AFP

A new census report reveals that an estimated 4.25 million people who were born in Myanmar now live abroad, according to a press release by the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). 

This number includes the 2.02 million household members reported to be abroad during the 2014 census, and those projected to have left the country between the 1983 and 2014 censuses. The majority come from relatively few districts in border areas, including Mawlamyine and Hpa-An, and most live in Thailand and Malaysia. Large differences in earnings and employment opportunities between countries fuel international migration.

Shared language and ethnicity across borders facilitate this emigration, especially among ethnic minorities along the Thailand and China borders. International migration is dominated by young men. There are 156.3 male emigrants per 100 female emigrants. Three quarters of recent emigrants to Thailand are aged 15 to 34 (77 per cent for men, 76 per cent for women).

The findings come from the 2014 Myanmar Population and Housing Census Thematic Report on Migration and Urbanization. The report shows that only 10.4 per cent of recent migration within Myanmar is rural-to-urban. The largest movements are instead urban-to-urban (47.2 per cent). While Myanmar remains a predominantly rural society, the tempo of urbanization is increasing. This is especially true for Yangon where the population density is high and the infrastructure is already stretched.

Employment is a main instigator of movement. A large share of migration revolves around Yangon, into which there is significant migration, primarily from Ayeyawady. But the lion’s share of movement is between townships within Yangon, primarily from the south and west parts of the city to the north and east. Many recent migrants in Yangon are employed in manufacturing, illustrating that industrial zones are a powerful influence on migration and local population growth. Migration accounts for 80 per cent of Yangon’s population growth in the last five years.

“The findings show that policy makers can help slow urban growth by locating industrial zones outside Yangon. The data also calls for the need for increased and improved housing, utilities and services in the industrial zones”, says Janet Jackson, UNFPA Representative for Myanmar.

In addition to the urban hubs, the areas with the highest level of recent in-migration are Kachin, Kayah and Kayin. This indicates that economic dynamism, created by for example extraction industries and cross-border trade, impacts migration flows also outside the urban hubs. The areas with the highest level of recent out-migration are Ayeyawady, Bago, Magway and Chin.

Women constitute more than half of recent migration (53 per cent). A significant share of these are unmarried, especially those who move longer distances. 49 per cent of women who move between states/regions are unmarried.

 “Female migrants are particularly vulnerable. Myanmar needs policies and interventions that protect female migrants from exploitation, including the provision of secure accommodation and information about their rights”, says Jackson.

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