The plight of Myanmarese refugees in Thailand

Interviewed & written by Athong Makury

Burma refugees

Myanmarese refugees in Thailand ( picture)

After the 1988 national boycott in Myanmar (Burma) many people left their homes due to inhuman treatment and all kinds of human rights violations committed by the Junta government. Tens of thousands of people became refugees and took shelters in Thailand, Malaysia and India. The number of Myanmarese refugees increased as the Junta government continued its repressive and tyrannical rule in Myanmar which is a complete violation of universal law maintained by the international community. Thus, many more people from the country had to seek for another country as refugees with so many untold sufferings and problems they had never imagined.

The Myanmarese refugees, particularly, in Thailand seem facing more problems than those of their fellow refugees in other countries. The worse situation of the Myanmarese refugees comparing to other has to be looked into from the initial step of the Thai government how she sees and understands them. Though the UN suggested the fact, the Thai government did not sign the agreement under the United Nations’ provision that the Myanmarese, who have come to Thailand due to the crisis in Myanmar, are refugees but considered “temporary shelter seekers.” To be genuine, they are none other than the refugees who genuinely struggle for their daily survival. However, thanks to the United Nations for pushing the Thai government to accept and help them so that at least 9 camps have been formally set up along the mountainous Thai-Myanmar border.

UN/UNHCR has of course done tremendous things for the Myanmarese refugees in Thailand by providing necessary things and inviting many other NGOs and INGOs that try to improve the lives of the refugees. We can see many refugees going out of the camps to other countries for resettlement. But it seems that the UN could not still convince the Thai government to fully safeguard and help for their basic necessities. The problems they face in the camps are hard and serious. Many refugees complain that they are not well cared and supported by the UN and local government. For some, it’s been more than twenty years in the camps being away from the real world without a proper treatment which a human being must have. Many refugees long for the chance to resettle in the other countries that invite them and give them shelter. But the routine seems too slow and almost not reaching to them.

While they are in the camps they do not have access to proper education and profession trainings that will guarantee their future. That leaves them lack of skills too. Their aims for seeking a better shelter seem contrary and the situation of their daily survival seems worsened day by day. On the other hand, the local government does not allow them to go out of the camps for work and the worse is that they have no chance to go about outside of the camps except on health ground and some other official activities. As they did not receive enough provision they had to sneak out of the camps to make money to support their families.

But this is illegal according to the Thai government and thus many arrests and deportations happen every now and then. This further leads to violation of rules set by the host country and some of them are already victims of human trafficking and abuses. The reason for the increase of theft in camps could be due to insufficient supply and lack of care from the concerned. Many other social problems within the camps prevail. It is true that many have been affected psychologically for being cut off from the real world for many years and confined only in the camps. Many couples have been separated as the reason while one gets the chance to resettle in other country, one remains in the camp. The UN seems too slow to help them reunite by providing means to take the remaining ones out of the camps.

This had led many couples to divorce as they felt a gap between them. Many underage people are experiencing marital relationships and many underage girls are with babies and the worse thing is some could not mention the father of the child. For us, we understand that the refugee camps are temporary, sanctioned by the host country with the help and guidance of the UN. On the one hand, the Myanmarese refugees in Thailand experience different from other. For many, their stay in the temporary shelters continues more than ten years without proper education and care. Who is to be blamed?

The international community is overwhelmed with a sense of change in the home country under the Thein Sein’s quasi-civilian government and some of the NGOs/INGOs begin to shift their focus on the inland mission. Thus, many NGOs/INGOs have signaled that they are moving towards the inland mission. The recent deduction of support from Thai-Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) has caused a great worry for the refugees for their daily survivals. Some have suggested the repatriation of the refugees but the reform in Myanmar does not still guarantee the lives of ethnic minorities and the refugees as well. It’s logical to comment that the Thein Sein administration needs to prove its capacity for repatriation first by solving the problems of internally displaced people like in Arakhine state and Kachin state.

The President Obama had reminded during his recent visit that no process of reform would succeed without national reconciliation. In the mean time, a question remains, “Will the UN help soon the refugees for resettlement and encourage the host country that has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and does not have a refugee law or functioning asylum procedures to improve its assistance for the refugees more than 140,000 in number?”

This information is mostly taken from Maela which is the largest refugee camp in South-East Asia holding almost 50,000 refugees.


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