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Thailand's Construction Nomads

2017-02-21 11:31:32    Hits:

Hundreds of migrant construction workers reside in shipping containers in the outskirts of Bangkok.

BANGKOK — In a small community located on the outskirts of Bangkok, about 300 migrant construction workers live with their children in a set of dismountable houses built of recycled yellow shipping containers. When the construction work finishes, they will move the camp to a new location elsewhere.

Most of the residents are originally from impoverished neighboring countries such as Cambodia, Myanmar, and Laos. The company they work for provides them with housing, water, and electricity, so they can send money to their families.

“We had no work at home, that’s why we came here,” says Doun, 30, who was farming for a dollar a day in the Cambodian countryside.

Male workers receive the Thai minimum wage of 300 THB per day (about $8.5), while women receive 245 THB ($6.5) a day, a salary below average.

The conditions inside the shipping container homes are very austere. The rooms have a mattress on the floor, mosquito nets, and a clothes rack. The spaces also have a fan to relieve the suffocating air inside the metal boxes in a country where temperatures are high throughout the year.

Some areas inside the suburb are communal, such as the showers or toilets. These are shared by all the neighbors, so right after work they are crowded with people showering and doing laundry.

This particular suburb is home to seven children who are between nine months and 12 years in age. The kids can go to a school erected for them a few meters from their homes, where they play and receive basic education.

According to Amela Mujagic, program manager of the International Organization for Migration in Thailand, there are currently around 500,000 construction workers in Thailand. Most of them were previously engaged in fishing or agriculture, two industries heavily damaged by droughts in recent years.

The place does not have many commodities, but has become a community of neighbors with whom to share the long days away from home.

Antolín Avezuela is a photojournalist based in Bangkok, Thailand.

Ana Salvá is a freelance journalist based in Southeast Asia.


A resident returns home after bathing. Work usually ends at 5:30 p.m.


Buildings are made of stacked shipping containers. Only a metallic gabled ceiling covers the modules from rain and sun, the two main actors of Bangkok's weather.


Eighteen shipping containers compose each building. A total of 72 tiny households displayed on three different levels, while the inhabitants huddle inside.


A child plays with a cell phone at the front yard of his building. In the community there are seven kids from 9 months to 12 years old.


The land where the community is located is not paved, meaning it's dusty during dry season and muddy in the rainy season.


Late at night, after work on the construction sites, workers come back to the community via shared transportation. Most of the neighbors from this suburb are co-workers.


After a long day at work, some neighbors share time outside their buildings, where the breeze flows.


A young worker relaxes outside, enjoying an unusual moment of privacy in the community.


Both toilets and showers are in communal areas, located outside of the buildings. Just after transports return from work, these spaces are filled with neighbors who seize shower time to wash their clothes.


Each cabin has a window to the outside, made by a simple cut in the metal surface of the box. In Western countries such modifications on the original structure of the containers must be approved by an expert, since cutting through the walls can affect the strength of the structure and even lead to collapse.


Nieng, a Cambodian from Banteay Meanchey province, lives in this small apartment with her husband and children.


A lodger goes down the narrow stairs that connect the central hallways from the different levels of the building. When two neighbors cross paths in the corridor, they can barely move without bumping into each other.


Distances inside the compound are so tiny that facing doors are separated by no more than one-and-a-half meters. The lack of privacy is a big issue in this community.


Some neighbors like Doun, living alone, can afford to spend money on a little corner to place a TV inside their tiny house.


Austerity is the common rule inside all the households of this shipping container community. A typical room contains little more than some mattresses on the floor, mosquito nets, and a few packages with the inhabitants’ belongings.


A playground area in the front yard of the building. There are many families with kids among the migrant worker community who live in this compound.


A group of teenagers hang out late at night inside one of the transports that neighbors use to get to and from work.

Image Credit: Antolín Avezuela

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