More than 3.4 million people are still affected by Thailand’s worst flooding in more than five decades. Many communities across the country have been isolated for weeks, relying on local authorities and organizations like the Thai Red Cross for basic assistance.
The situation is particularly difficult for the country’s migrant workers. There is believed to be as many as three million migrant workers in Thailand, many of them working illegally. Without documentation, they are often invisible to authorities and humanitarian organizations and are missing out on assistance.
Bangkruai, an area on the outskirts of Bangkok, has been flooded now for more than four weeks. In some streets, water is as high as 1.5 metres. Among the residents are hundreds of people from Myanmar, Cambodian and Lao who work in local factories and on construction sites.
At a Thai Red Cross Society distribution in Bangkruai, 500 families were set to receive food, medical supplies and clean drinking water. They lined up patiently to receive their allocation of support – the first they have received in more than two weeks.
Soon a group of migrant workers arrived. After a short conversation with one of the Red Cross workers, they too lined up and received much needed supplies. Their arrival was unexpected, but the Thai Red Cross is committed to supporting migrant workers.
“Migrant workers are the most vulnerable,” explains Dr Pichit Siriwan, deputy director of the organization’s Relief and Community Health Bureau. “Because they sometimes work illegally, they are not on lists. They don’t exist, so they don’t get help.”
The Thai Red Cross has been identified as the organization that is best placed to assist migrant workers affected by these floods. In collaboration with the Disaster Preparedness and Mitigation (DDPM), IOM and UNHCR, the Red Cross will work to address the needs of this highly vulnerable and often invisible community.
Dr Pichit is adamant that humanitarian assistance should be based on need, and need alone. A person’s legal status should not be an issue.
“When governments can provide lists, we can provide relief. It’s as simple as that. For us it is a pleasure to serve everyone.”
In recent years the Thai government has begun to register undocumented workers, a process that will enable them to live and work in Thailand legally and with full access to social services. But the process is a difficult one. Having lived on the fringes of society for so long, many migrant communities have proven unwilling to come forward and register for fear of being deported.