Young People in Laos Wants the City Life

More and more young Laotians leave rural areas and move to large cities or neighboring Thailand. Moving often leads to a better economy, but also to long hours and harsh working conditions. A more regulated legal labor migration, focusing on migrants’ rights would reduce risks to young exploited, according to a new dissertation at
Umeå University in Sweden.

Previously isolated Laos has opened its economy to the outside world, and foreign investment has increased demand for labor in industry and service industries. In rural areas, much has changed, the market economy has gained importance and transport facilities have improved.

Through the analysis of data from the latest census, geographer Kabmanivanh Phouxay has found that migration pattern looks different today compared to just a few years ago.

Previously, the major migratory flow was between rural regions.

Today’s rural inhabitants move instead to the big cities in Laos and into Thailand. Moving abroad is common in southern Laos, where the Mekong River forms the border between the countries.

To understand what drives young Laotians to leave the countryside, Kabmanivanh Phouxay interviewed female industrial workers, returning emigrants and families of current Laotians living in Thailand. She argues that for rural daughters moving is one way to financially help their parents and siblings, and despite the low wages the factories, both family and individuals with a stronger economic position. Women often lift up the good cohesion in the workplace, and security created by the women in the factories. However, life is largely composed of long hours and strict control. In order to earn better and get away from the factories’ supervision, many start working in markets or beer bar, where the risk of being exploited is much larger.

Moving to Thailand means even greater risk, Kabmanivanh Phouxay says.

In interviews with returning migrants and their families many young emigrants tells of their often tragic fates. Particularly vulnerable are Laotians that go with with illegal labor recruiters in search of people to the industrial, service and tourism industry in Thailand.

Many people face extremely harsh working conditions with long hours.

Violence is also common, and many women become victims of trafficking. But the money that many migrants send home plays a large role in their
family and home village’s financial situation.

Kabmanivanh Phouxay concludes that migration within the country, after all, has some positive aspects for the young migrants, and that a more regulated legal labor migration could help many young laoter to earn money without risking ruthless exploitation. Especially important is that migrants’ rights are ensured, both with regard to working conditions and legal status.

Kabmanivanh Phouxay, defended the dissertation in Cultural Geography at Umeå University on Friday, November 19 entitled “Patterns of Migration and Socio-Economic Change in Lao PDR”. The external examiner was Associate Professor Jytte Agergaard, Department of Geography and Geology, University of Copenhagen.

For more information, contact:

Kabmanivanh Phouxay (speaks English)
Human Geography, Umeå University
Phone:             090-786 58 97
E-mail: Kabmanivanh.Phouxay @

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