NEWS
HEADLINES [click on headline to view story]:

Chiang Mai unites in royal mourning

The 3-Million Baht Baby

Chiang Mai aquarium reopens

Protestors demand review of new water gate plan

One family’s Loy Krathong goes up in smoke

Drug-related shoot-out results in death of smuggler

Doctors issue health warning to New Year’s motorists

Steps taken against avian flu virus as migrant birds arrive

Cold snap sees new thermometers installed in mountain villages

New Mae Hong Son border post to facilitate teak imports

Chiang Mai Bike Week’s here again

Prague hosts 1st European exhibition of paintings by Chiang Mai elephants

Two Chiang Mai University researchers win Japanese awards

Retirement visa concerns aired at US consulate

US ‘Town Hall’ meeting to become annual event

Chinese dams: did they flood the Greater Mekong Sub-region?

Chiang Mai to host seminar on climate change

AirAsia abolishes fuel surcharges; Thai Air increases flights

Workshop studies the issues of migration in GMS

 

Chiang Mai unites in royal mourning

Thousands flock to Wat Suan Dok to pay last respects to the late Princess Galyani Vadhana

The Governor of Chiang Mai, Wiboon Sa-nguanpong is seen performing religious rites to mark the royal cremation ceremony in front of a portrait of Her Royal Highness Princess Galyani Vadhana at Wat Suan Dok in Chiang Mai.

Saksit Meesubkwang/Elena Edwards
Whilst the beautiful and traditional ceremonies associated with the funeral and cremation of HRH the late Princess Galyani Vadhana were being conducted in Bangkok, black-clad mourners here in Chiang Mai were gathering at Wat Suan Dok in their thousands to lay sandalwood flowers in front of the crematorium and join, in support of HM King Bhumibol, Queen Sirikit, the Royal Family and the whole of Thailand, in grief and remembrance of the life and works of the greatly-loved Princess.
In attendance at the ceremony were the Governor of Chiang Mai, Wiboon Sanguanpong, the Chiang Mai Consul Generals, members of the Northern aristocracy, government officials and groups of volunteer medical professionals who had participated in the many projects, sponsored by Princess Galyani Vadhana during her visits to the province, which gave medical assistance to the poor in rural areas.
Whilst the ceremonies of mourning were taking place in Bangkok and here in Chiang Mai, another poignant commemoration of the Princess’s life and works was taking place high in the mountains surrounding the city.
The Black Muser hill tribe, although mostly unable to speak Thai, are deeply grateful to the Thai Royal Family for allowing them to live in peace on the land. Although their travel to Bangkok to attend the ceremonies is forbidden by law, the local village shaman held a day-long tribal ceremony, in which the entire village joined, to elevate the soul of the late and greatly loved Princess to eternal peace. They are reported as being sad that they could not go to Bangkok, but felt that they had to do something to show their love for the Royal Family and to be part of the national mourning.
The Chiang Mai expat community, many of whom were aware of the kindness and concern towards the poor and underprivileged shown by the Princess, joined in the mourning at the loss of a great and generous lady, who, since her death, has been sadly missed by all. Many of us, uncertain about the correct mourning procedures at local Wats, preferred to stay at home and watch with sorrow the elaborate ceremonials in Bangkok. A sad day for all, but also a commemoration of the life of a selfless and compassionate human being.

 

The 3-Million Baht Baby

Proud father-to-be, Tadeng, is pictured surrounded
by the overjoyed members of the research team.

Michael Davies
A press conference was held November 18 at the National Elephant Conservation Centre near Lampang to announce a major achievement - the world’s first elephant pregnancy brought about by means of artificial insemination with the use of frozen semen, and the expected arrival of a new “miracle baby” as a result.
The project itself began 8 years ago, motivated by a desire to reverse the decline in elephants worldwide. At present, here in Thailand, there are only approximately 3,000 domestic and 2,000 wild elephants remaining. The breeding of elephants in the camps is fraught with problems of inbreeding as usually only one bull is kept who mates with all the available females, many of whom he is already related. It was, therefore, essential to perfect a procedure which would introduce new genes into domestic herds, and which would allow the transportation of semen between areas.
The project is a joint effort between the Elephant Conservation Centre‘s Dr Sittidet Mahasavangkul, Dr. Ronnachit Rungsri of Mae Sa Elephant Camp, Dr. Sitthawee Thongtipsiridech at Kasetsart University and Chiang Mai University’s Dr Chatchote Thiraram, together with the involvement of numerous other persons and organisations. After extensive trials and research, it was eventually confirmed that elephant semen can be stored in liquid nitrogen at -196 degrees Celsius for a length of time without degeneration.
The next step in the project was to select a bull and a cow elephant to be the prospective parents of the miracle baby. Tadeng, a 31 year old bull at Conservation Centre and Sao, a 26 year old female from Mae Sa Camp, were selected for the process. Sperm was taken from Tadeng in July 2007 and frozen. In November 2007, 10 veterinarians performed an operation on Sao, and in January this year an ultrasound confirmed that Sao was carrying a 15-week-old baby elephant.
The pregnancy of an elephant takes between 18 and 23 months, varying dependent on whether it is a first or second calf, on the age of the parents, and on their health. The project team, having not wanted to release the good news until there were sure that the AI had been completely successful, were overjoyed to be able to announce that the baby elephant is due between August and November next year
This project has so far cost over 3 million baht, and has involved many people in Chiang Mai province and throughout Thailand. The team will report their amazing achievement a the World Elephant Conference in Pattaya, to be held November 24 to 26. The Chiang Mai Mail wishes to congratulate all involved, including, of course, Tadeng and Sao!


Chiang Mai aquarium reopens

Sophon Damnui, director of Zoological Park Organisation (ZPO),
takes a tour of the newly reopened Chiang Mai aquarium.

Saksit Meesubkwang
Asia’s largest aquarium, which recently opened at Chiang Mai Zoo and was immediately closed due to faults in the filter system and ticket machines, has now reopened after a three-week closure.
The reopening, on November 17, attracted a good number of visitors and local residents and was presided over by the director of the zoological organisation of Thailand, Sophon Damnui, and the president of the private company which is in partnership with the zoo in the project, Roj Thuwanalin.
Sophon expects that the aquarium will attract at least 800,000 visitors per year, with 17,500 tickets already reserved, and that pre-booking numbers will be boosted by the re-opening of Royal Flora Ratchapruek.

Tour agents enjoy their visit to the newly reopened Chiang Mai aquarium, Sunday, November 17.


Protestors demand review of new water gate plan

The protestors hold up their banners and placards outside City Hall.

Saksit Meesubkwang
A government project that involves the building of a new water gate to solve flooding problems in Chiang Mai city has resulted in a protest by 50 Saraphi villagers, who consider that the current Phaya Kham weir is essential for their agricultural needs.
The protestors gathered outside City Hall on November 17 and a petition was presented on their behalf to the Chiang Mai deputy governor, Pairoj Saengphuwong, by their leader, Somboon Boonchu, with the request that the matter be passed on to the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives for reconsideration. The petition also requested reconsideration of the scheme by the province’s dam and irrigation working group.
Somboon stated that the local agricultural lifestyle would be severely affected, and that objections to the scheme had previously been presented without success. He stressed that government claims that the majority were in agreement with the plan during its presentation at the public hearing were “untrue.” He said the hearing was not properly conducted as the views of affected people were not considered. The only voices listened to were the minority who were in agreement as it would not affect them, concluded Somboon.


One family’s Loy Krathong goes up in smoke

Saksit Meesubkwang
Following the Loy Krathong festivities on November 12, a serious fire broke out at approximately 2.30 a.m. in a one-storey house in Saraphi district. The owner, Supaknang Photharam, her two sons and neighbours attempted to douse the flames without success.

The house in Saraphi district was completely gutted by the fire.

The fire was finally put out by the local fire service 30 minutes after their arrival at the scene, but the 20-year old house, a car and 3 motorbikes, assessed at a value of 500,000 baht, were severely damaged. Police and a forensic team believe the fire was caused by an old and unsafe electrical appliance. Kanong Tonlek, head of the local Tambon’s administrative organisation, promised to provide aid to the family.


Drug-related shoot-out results in death of smuggler

Khajohn Boonpath
Drug dealer Prachai Kamnerdkaruna, 27, was the subject of an extra-judicial killing by Mae Hong Son border patrol police during a shoot-out in November 17. Two accomplices of Prachai, Amnart and Pornthip Pornpanbuaklee, were later arrested.
Information was received by police authorities and the army in Pai that an attempt was under way to smuggle YaBa pills from Mae Hong Son to Pai. Police apprehended the three dealers, and ordered a body search, during which Prachai pulled out a gun and a shoot-out began which saw Prachai hit twice in the head and chest.
Police subsequently found 10,000 YaBa pills in a bag. Prachai’s accomplices fled the scene but were arrested later. On questioning, they admitted the drugs had originated from a Burmese producer and were aimed at Pai residents and tourists. The Mae Hong Son area in which the couple live is well known for the sale of illegal drugs.
It was reported that Prachai had been on the wanted list for drug dealing and selling stolen motorcycles for some time, with the stolen bikes being exchanged over the Burmese border for illegal drugs. Residents of the dead man’s tambon, Pang Kong, which was formerly designated as a border guard village, are mostly from the Black Lahu and Thai Yai tribes. Many Lahu inhabitants are reported to be working on Burmese opium farms, whilst the Thai Yai inhabitants do not. As a result, it has been difficult to fulfil the border guard village designation.


Doctors issue health warning to New Year’s motorists

CMM reporters
Doctors from Maharaj Nakorn Chiang Mai Hospital have identified well in advance the “7 dangerous days” of the 2009 New Year festivities and are issuing last year’s death and injury statistics as a warning to this year’s revellers.
According to the statistics, problems began on December 28, and continued until January 3, with a nationwide death toll of 449 and an accident total of 4,456. Drink- driving and speeding were the main causes of accidents during the period.
Chiang Mai itself reported 948 accidents, with the highest daily number being, not surprisingly, reported on New Year’s Eve. Some 267 of the victims were admitted to hospital, and 12 people died from their injuries on that day.
Again, not surprisingly, motorcyclists were the main victims, with 50% having consumed alcohol.
The Ministry of Public Health will address the annual increase in accidents with a campaign encouraging drivers to abide by the laws of the road, to wear helmets, not to drink and drive, to obey the speed limits and to drive cautiously and safely over the holiday period. It will also advise motorists and passers-by who may wish to help accident victims on the best ways to proceed, such as not moving victims in case of spinal injuries, stopping bleeding if possible, and applying first aid where necessary.
For road accident rescue, please call Wieng Ping Rescue Team on 1669 - if an accident occurs inside Chiang Mai University’s campus or near Maharaj Nakorn Chiang Mai Hospital, call the hospital’s accident centre on 053-947777.


Steps taken against avian flu virus as migrant birds arrive

Saksit Meeesubkwang
As winter approaches and migrant birds begin arriving, an avian influenza prevention and clean-up campaign has been launched in the city, presided over by Chiang Mai Governor, Wiboon Sa-nguanpong.
The campaign is beginning in Chiang Mai’s Muang district and will continue to other districts, promoted by district and public health offices as well as the local administration. All concerned parties are being urged to inform the provincial administration immediately of any outbreak of avian influenza in their area, in order that immediate action to eradicate the virus can be taken and the public protected against any likelihood of infection. Daily reports from poultry farms are also being requested.
According to the head of the Chiang Mai Provincial Livestock Office, Weerachart Kuenrat, the province is currently clear of infection and livestock officers are presently controlling and inspecting all incoming and outgoing poultry shipments.
Any attempt to illegally import poultry into the province will result in legal action and fines.

Livestock officials spray chemicals to prevent the outbreak of the bird flu virus in a village in Saraphi district, Chiang Mai.


Cold snap sees new thermometers installed in mountain villages

Khajohn Boonpath
A recent and urgent request by the Governor of Mae Hong Son province to the local meteorological office has resulted in the installation of thermometers in remote mountainous and outlying villages, which will be used to verify the low levels of temperature necessary for a natural disaster area to be declared.
The winter chill, forecast to be worse than usual this year, has already settled over the province, with areas already experiencing low or even freezing temperatures.
Previously, records were compiled using thermometers installed in city locations and were used to calculate whether the 3-day 15 degrees Celsius level, at which a natural disaster could be declared, had been reached. But the outlying and mountainous areas which regularly experience much lower temperatures were being ignored, and that resulted in much-needed relief from the freezing conditions not being given.
Subsequently the new thermometers have now been installed and budgets of up to 21 million baht have been allocated to serve more than 100,000 people in the province with blankets and warm clothing, demands for which are expected to be higher this year.
However, the cooling weather is bringing one benefit to the province; that of increased tourism with visitors arriving in larger numbers from both the central and southern regions of the kingdom.


New Mae Hong Son border post to facilitate teak imports

Khajohn Boonpath
Mae Hong Son’s Provincial Chamber of Commerce has authorised the opening of a new border pass between Burma and Thailand, following earlier trade negotiations with the Burmese government and a visit by the Governor of the province to a Burmese logging factory reportedly owned by Gen. Than Shwe’s son-in-law.
According to the deputy governor of Mae Hong Son, Wanchai Suttiworachai, the checkpoint at Ban Nam Piang had been scheduled to receive teak logs for import supplied by the Karenni National People’s Liberation Front, (KNPLF). However, the recent surrender of the KNPLF’s leader to the Burmese army, with the subsequent dissolution of the organisation, resulted in Burmese laws which prevent the export of teak under any circumstances being reapplied.
Problems had also occurred at the Ban Huay Phueng checkpoint, with the importation of illegally logged wood combined with unfair trading practices and rising prices.
Construction of the new checkpoint will be expedited in order to facilitate border trade.


Chiang Mai Bike Week’s here again

CMM reporters
As the motorcyclists amongst you potter around Chiang Mai saving fuel on your Honda Dreams, many of you may be dreaming of the days when you had a “real” motorbike. At this time of year, these thoughts may be more to the front of your minds than at any other, just as you’re overtaken by a huge Harley Davidson. Yes, it’s Chiang Mai Big Bike Week again!
For 2008, the show promises to be the biggest ever, and will be held at the Sirinart Garden Hotel on Canal Road (Route 121), on your left as you head south. The dates are December 6 and 7, with the 6,500 square metre exhibition area open from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., jammed with displays of the newest big bike models from Harley Davidson, Kawasaki, BMW, Yamaha, Triumph, and KTM.
The theme for this year’s Bike Week is ‘Old School Choppers’, and antique bikes from all over the world.
The welcome party will take place from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m. on December 6, and the main party will be held the following day from 7 p.m. to midnight; that is for those who have the stamina after indulging in one or more of the ride tours around the Chiang Mai mountains, and even as far away as the Golden Triangle.
The Golden Triangle run will take 2-3 days, but the organisers are providing several shorter runs in addition. The Samoeng Loop to the west of the city is the most popular short ride at 75 kilometres; to the east, the Tharon Thong/Mae Kum Phong ride is 114 kilometres. The run to Khun Tan in the south east is 150 kilometers, and for bikers who prefer a little more comfort, the 160 kilometre southbound Mae Ya Waterfall run is all on highways, rather than dirt tracks and mountainsides.
Funds raised from this year’s event will be donated to the Pong Yeang village school, for kids between 3-7 years old, and to the Wat Don Chan Orphanage, well known around the city for its work with the 500 children it supports.
For further information on this event visit the Bike Week’s website at www. chiangmaibikeweek.com, but be warned, the site’s a lot slower than the bikes.


Prague hosts 1st European exhibition of paintings by Chiang Mai elephants

Traditional Thai dancers surround dignitaries at the TAT exhibition in Prague.

George Powell
The very first exhibition of elephant paintings in Europe was held recently in Prague, featuring paintings by 3 elephants that reside at the Elephant Life Experience (ELE) in Maetaman Valley. The exhibition was held as part of a Tourism Authority of Thailand presentation at the Hilton Prague Hotel entitled “The amazing Thai night 2008”.
During the event, ELE artistic director, Cholasinth Chorsakul, who had collaborated with the elephants on their acrylic on canvas painting techniques, presented an elephant painting to H.E. Thanarat Thanaputti, Thai ambassador to the Czech Republic.


Two Chiang Mai University researchers win Japanese awards

CMM reporters.
Members of a research team at Chiang Mai University were honoured recently by awards from the Japanese Association for Flow Injection Analysis, (JAFIA).
Prof. Dr. Ket Krudpan, head of research for analysis tool development at CMU’s Institute of Sciences and Technology, also a lecturer at the university’s faculty of chemistry, was granted the JAFIA’s FIA Honor Award for Science. He is the first Thai and second Asian researcher to receive a JAFIA award. CMU researcher Dr. Jaroon Jakmunee, from the same team and a lecturer at the faculty of chemistry, was presented with the FIA Honor Award for Younger Researchers. Dr. Jaroon is the first Thai researcher to receive this JAFIA award.
The presentation of the two awards was staged as a part of the 15th International Conference on Flow Injection Analysis held last month in Nagoya, Japan.


Retirement visa concerns aired at US consulate

CMM reporters
The U.S. Consulate General Chiang Mai was host to a fantastic and well-attended “American Town Hall” style meeting on Saturday, November 8.
Amongst the topics discussed, one matter that drew quite a passionate response was the issue of Americans who reside in Thailand on a retirement visa being legally barred from doing volunteer work out in the community - be it English teaching, community support projects or whatever. Reportedly, engaging in such work as a volunteer violates the terms of the retirement visa and subjects the visa-holder to having their visa revoked. Thus many potential contributors are frustrated and afraid to offer their various talents to the betterment of the local community, both Thai and expat.
Democrats Abroad promised to raise this subject with the U.S. Embassy in Bangkok and have reported back with their findings, which were stated at the meeting as follows.
“The U.S. Embassy in Bangkok has heard this same complaint from the Embassy wardens who live all over Thailand. In fact, at the Embassy’s recent warden conference on Sept 26, the wardens asked a guest speaker from Thai Immigration about this matter. The Thai Immigration official told the wardens that if they are on a retirement visa, they should not do any work, volunteer or otherwise.
“Given the obstacles facing American retirees who wish to do volunteer work in Thailand, the Embassy will look for an opportunity to raise this issue with the Foreign Ministry to see what might be done about it. We do not anticipate a quick solution, however.”
So it seems the short answer for now is that foreign persons wishing to do volunteer work must follow the Immigration Act and the Employment for Foreign Workers Act by requesting a work permit and changing his/her visa type from non-immigrant visa class O to non-immigrant visa class B.
For additional information please contact Dr. Peter J. Foley, Chair Democrats Abroad Thailand Chiang Mai Chapter, [email protected]


US ‘Town Hall’ meeting to become annual event

Andy Archer
A special “Town Hall” meeting was arranged recently, aimed at US citizens living in Chiang Mai, and taking place before the start of the fortnightly Expat’s Club gathering at the Shangri La Hotel. The US Consul General, Michael Morrow, was joined by the consular chief, Vu Le and the regional security officer Jessica Moore, at the “full house- standing room only” event.
Michael Morrow explained that both his and the Consulate’s 150 employees’ main role is to ‘be there’ for US citizens in Chiang Mai. Latest figures show that around 7,000 Americans are living in Northern Thailand. Another important role is that of working with Thailand’s drug enforcement agencies in countering narcotics dealing and use, although, at present, very few shipments of illegal drugs reach the US. The promotion of trade, investment and commerce is also essential, as is the Consulate’s responsibility towards Burmese exiles in Northern Thailand.
Vu Le apologised for any inconvenience caused due to the renovations being carried out at the Consulate and said that the ‘service hours’ for American citizens have now been extended. The Consulate is now open for ACS on Tuesdays and Thursdays, from 8.30 a.m. to 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. to 2 p.m. for full service, and 2 p.m. to 3.30 p.m. for limited services, including picking up forms, benefit checks, new passports, consulate reports of birth abroad and registration. Consular ‘report of birth abroad’ interviews are by appointment only.
Thirty minutes of questions from the audience followed, with some interesting points being made. The first question concerned, unsurprisingly, visa issues and the various policies, with topics including US citizens volunteering in Thailand. The reply, as always, was that all work, either paid or as a volunteer should have the relevant work permit. This topic is covered fully elsewhere in this week’s CM Mail.
Another issue raised was ‘out of hours’ emergencies, to which Vu Le gave the relevant number to call, 081 881 1878. Michael Morrow added that, although the office hours for ACS are limited to Tuesdays and Thursdays, both he and his staff are available should there be an emergency – which has happened many times in the last year.
Questions were also asked about personal access to the Consulate, pedestrian safety in the city, especially when crossing roads, and the attitude of the security personnel at the Consulate towards US citizens.
The vast majority of the audience agreed that the meeting was a success, with Michael Morrow, in his closing speech, saying that he hoped this would become an annual event from now on.


Chinese dams: did they flood the Greater Mekong Sub-region?

CMM reporters
At a forum held recently in Bangkok and attended by representatives from concerned organisations including community leaders, activists and environmentalists, it was suggested repeatedly by delegates that the Chinese reaction to safety threats posed by the Sichuan earthquake in May had resulted in the devastating floods in the GMS region. Millions of tons of water were released from the Manwan, Dachaoshan and Jinghong dams after the earthquake struck; shortly afterwards, massive floods destroyed many thousands of homes and agricultural land in Mekong River communities.
The forum, entitled, “Mekong Mainstream Dams: Voices across Borders,” was a two-day affair held at Chulalongkorn University with attendees from the six GMS nations: China, Burma, Laos, Thailand, Cambodia and Vietnam.
A speaker from Chiang Rai accused the Chinese of being responsible for the devastation, saying that affected areas of Northern Thailand had yet to receive compensation for the financial loss of approx. 85 million baht. However, a CEO from the Mekong River Commission denied that the Chinese dams were responsible and blamed the Laotian authorities.
Also under discussion was the fragile environment bordering the Mekong River, and of the river itself. The dams have severely affected the flow of the river’s water, and consequently the spawning habits of many varieties of fish. Even more dams are at present being built in China, Laos, Thailand and Cambodia, with Laos planning to build at least 7, and Cambodia 2.
The majority of the seminar’s speakers continued to urge the GMS’s governments to lessen their reliance on hydropower, and to have due regard for a unique ecosystem and its inhabitants.


Chiang Mai to host seminar on climate change

CMM reporters
As we all must by now be aware, climate change is a growing global crisis. Already around the world changes in climate patterns are affecting communities and here in Thailand, many of the global threats may well have intense local effects such as intense storms like Cyclone Nargis, long droughts or desiccated rivers due to melting Himalayan glaciers, all of which may cause drastic changes to lifestyles and livelihoods.
For this reason, a group of concerned activists in Chiang Mai founded the Northern Climate Change Network (NCCN) in August, 2008. NCCN will hold a public seminar on climate change on December 3, at the Chiang Mai Christian Church, located on the Mae Ping River near the Riverside Restaurant.
The seminar will examine the causes and potential effects of climate change, both globally and locally. The causes have already been well documented; the natural variations of the planet, deforestation worldwide and the burning of fossil fuels at a rate that has raised atmospheric carbon dioxide levels by 30% already, with a potential doubling by 2050. The impact will be felt worldwide, with, for example, the melting of arctic ice forecast to raise sea levels everywhere. However, local impacts will also be felt, with changes in local rainfall patterns significantly altering agricultural endeavours.
Most Thai people are unaware of the potential costs of climate change; therefore, the seminar will also examine the response of the Thai government and businesses to the crisis and also try to raise public awareness of its nature and extent. It will also urge residents to take action to mitigate the worst impacts of the changes, and to adapt to those changes that cannot be avoided.


AirAsia abolishes fuel surcharges; Thai Air increases flights

CMM reporter and Khajohn Boonpath
AirAsia, the leading and largest low-cost carrier in Asia, has become the first airline in the world to abolish fuel surcharges on all its international and domestic flights. Beginning immediately, passengers flying with AirAsia and AirAsia X will only have to pay fares, airport taxes and administration fees.
Meanwhile Thai Air has recently increased its Chiang Mai- Mae Hong Son flights to 3 per day, using ATR 72 planes, to promote the approaching tourist seasons in Mae Hong Son and the Buatong Flower festival at Mae U Kor Mountain.
Additionally, as a specific service to tourists in the Mae Hong Son mountainous area, the local Land Transportation Office has introduced a “Save your life by checking your car” campaign, with private sector operators offering free car-check services.


Workshop studies the issues of migration in GMS

Mekong Institute’s
ICCD staff

According to Reiko Harima, Coordinator for the Secretariat of the Mekong Migration Network (MMN), there are at least 3 million migrants currently living in the Greater Mekong Sub-region. She added that, “GMS is home to more than 240 million people, however, accurate data concerning the number of migrants in the GMS is hard to obtain as many migrants cross borders without any official documentation or record of their journeys.”

Reiko Harima, Coordinator for the Secretariat of the Mekong Migration Network.

Harima made her remarks at the opening of a regional training course on labour migration management in the Greater Mekong Sub-region, at Khon Kaen’s Mekong Institute (MI) on November 10.
MI, together with the MMN, is conducting the workshop with the aim of educating both policy-makers and implementers in government agencies both in correct labour migration management and in cooperation with neighbouring countries.
The three-week course has been sponsored by NZAID, with the Rockefeller Foundation providing financial assistance for curriculum development and action, and will involve the study of all aspects of labour migration management.
Thailand is the major receiving country for migrants in the region, hosting around 2-2.5 million, while Cambodia and Yunnan province in China also host a significant number. Laos, primarily a transit country for migrants to Thailand, is also home to a small number of immigrants from Vietnam and China, although numbers are reportedly increasing as a result of Chinese development projects in Laos.
Reiko stated that migrants in the sub-region cross borders to seek better work or to find safety and refuge. Migrants constitute equal numbers of males and females, with most being of working age, and families will often migrate together.
The immigration status of long term residents in the host country is often difficult to determine. A unique characteristic of cross-border mobility in the sub-region is that ethnic groups residing along the borders are often related to the same ethnic group on the other side of the border. As a result, cross-border travel has long been a part of their daily lives.
As each migrant carries a story with him or her, they also carry a culture, a history and a collective and individual identity. Each migrant works and contributes to both the host country and the country of origin.
Efforts to manage migration of workers in the sub-region are increasing, bringing a new set of challenges such as creating safe migration channels which are accepted by migrants as being the best option, and creating multi-sectoral responses to migrants’ needs such as housing, sanitary issues, education and healthcare.
Individual migration may be temporary, but the collective migrant flow is constant and permanent, requiring long-term planning by relevant authorities. The challenge is the capacity of government departments and the need for increased cooperation between countries in the region.
Key issues on this subject have already been discussed in 2006 and 2007 by the region’s policy-makers, officials from the 6 countries involved and researchers at a series of Mekong Institute forums. Welfare and social issues were discussed, as well as pre-migration issues, return and reintegration, and the needs of ethnic minority groups.
According to Sanda Thant, the Mekong Institute’s Regional Cooperation Department Manager, “(migration) is accepted as having both benefits and cost. Benefits include a source of foreign exchange for the country of origin, the reduction of poverty and unemployment amongst migrant communities and the sharing of skills. Social costs include the possibility of people trafficking, exploitation of labour, legal status vulnerability and multiple forms of discrimination.
“Increased connectivity in the GMS, together with globalisation of the capitalist economy facilities the movement of people in both directions within and outside of the region in the search for a better life,” she said.