The Missing Millions of Myanmar.
Recent conflicts and the displacement of millions in the Middle East have brought migration and immigration into the centre of global politics, and of our consciousness. Yet away from conflict-related migration, economic migration continues to grow, as people seek work and improved social conditions in other countries. Globally, the estimate of internal and external migrant populations is between 750 million and one billion with continued growth in numbers in the 21st century. A national census conducted in 2014 in Myanmar was surprised to find several million fewer people than expected. Over two million Myanmar were registered as overseas migrants, and the number of unregistered migrants is estimated to be at least as many again. A further nine million persons were registered as having migrated from a different part of the country – a staggering 18 per cent of the entire population.
Many migrant workers from Myanmar undertake so-called ‘3-D’ work (Difficult, Dirty, Dangerous) in countries like Thailand and the Gulf States, sending money back to their families by ‘Hondi’-traditional, trust-based systems, or by more modern transfers like Western Union. The benefits of migrancy are mixed: the remittances sent back to households are often a valuable means of survival, and migrants themselves often gain new skills abroad which they can bring back to the local labour market. But the costs may be very high: risk of injury and illness, and, because they are away from supportive communities, many engage in negative behaviours such as alcohol and drug abuse, and immoral behaviour, sometimes resulting in importing HIV back to their families on their return.
For the Church, the challenge of migration is two-fold. Many churches in rural communities and smaller towns have few young people left, as whole generations of mostly young men have migrated either to the cities in Myanmar, or abroad. One church pastor commented: ‘how can we train the next generation of leaders when there is no “next generation” in our churches?’ Secondly, leaving the church environment can result in backsliding amongst second and third generation Christian youth, where they often migrate to places with little established Christian fellowship and support. Social media has made things a little easier, but as another pastor put it ‘How can I pastor my flock when they are scattered in so many different fields?’ However, this dislocation may also have positive benefits: many non-Christian migrant workers, finding themselves lonely, have turned to Christian fellowships with open hearts.
As the global economy continues to sustain inequalities, and changing markets and weather patterns erode traditional livelihoods, migration is likely to increase. This is both a challenge and an opportunity for the church; a challenge to know how to grow the next generation of leaders; an opportunity to reach out to unbelieving migrants whose hearts are more open.
Pray for Myanmar
- Please pray for church leaders, both in Myanmar and in places like Thailand with large numbers of Myanmar migrants, to have the faith and wisdom to respond to the challenge and opportunities of migration.
- Please pray that Myanmar’s migrants would be protected as they carry out difficult and often dangerous work abroad.
- Please pray for stronger local economies to enable young Christians to live out their faith in their own countries, towns and villages.