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Young children outside surround a small garden in a settlement for migrant workers.
Refugees in limbo

Thailand

For more than three decades, refugees from Myanmar have sought safe haven in neighboring Thailand. The International Rescue Committee is aiding more than 100,000 refugees in nine camps along the border.

Country facts
  • Total population: 67,223,000
  • People displaced by crisis: 114,000
  • Rank in Human Development index: 89 of 188
IRC response
  • Started working in Thailand: 1975
  • People assisted per year: 105,000

Thailand crisis briefing

The IRC is providing food and water, health care and sanitation, protection for children and women, and education and legal assistance for displaced people from Myanmar residing in Thailand, as well as resettlement processing for those offered sanctuary in the United States.

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What caused the crisis in Thailand?

People uprooted from Myanmar, also known as Burma, began crossing into Thailand in 1984 to escape violence and oppressive military rule at home. Today around 104,000 people live in camps on the Thai side of the border.

In all, some 3 million refugees, displaced people and migrants live in limbo in Thailand with limited access to basic rights, education and health care.

What are the main humanitarian challenges in Thailand?

The majority of refugees from Myanmar living in camps in Thailand have fled ethnic conflict, human-rights abuses and economic deprivation. Although Myanmar has embraced major political and economic reforms in recent years, many refugees are reluctant to return home while political and ethnic conflicts remain unresolved and job prospects are few.

With no legal right to work in Thailand or even to leave the camps, refugees live in limbo—dependent on services provided by aid organizations like the IRC.

Alcoholism and domestic violence are widespread. Children are at risk of abuse, neglect and exploitation. Many girls marry early, sometimes to spouses who abuse them.

How does the IRC help in Thailand?

The IRC’s mission is to help people whose lives and livelihoods have been shattered by conflict and disaster to survive, recover and gain control of their future.

The IRC started working in Thailand in 1975 in response to the influx of refugees from Vietnam, Laos and Cambodia. We have provided programs and services to displaced Burmese in Thailand since 1992. Specifically, the IRC:

  • provides ongoing medical care, focusing on pregnant women, babies and children, and on the prevention and treatment of malaria.
  • provides legal counseling, emotional support and referral services to refugees, especially women, who are victims of crime or abuse.
  • works with adolescent girls to tackle issues such as early marriage and violence against women.
  • helps landmine victims and others with special needs by providing medical care, prostheses and emotional support.
  • assists refugees seeking admission to the U.S. by processing asylum claims with the federal government.
  • collaborates with local authorities and partners to advocate for the rights of children, migrant workers and displaced people and to ensure they have access to services.
  • provides health training (the first academically accredited program) for displaced people so they can deliver services within their towns and villages.
  • responds to emergencies with urgent medical treatment and supplies.

What still needs to be done?

The IRC’s priorities are to keep people safe and healthy and ensure they have the power to make decisions about their lives. We aim to reach 70,000 people by the end of 2020, specifically targeting conflict-affected people.

The IRC in Thailand will ensure the safety of conflict-affected people through legal assistance and protection programs. In addition, the IRC will leverage its expertise and strong network to expand and improve health care, with a special focus on women and girls.

In collaboration with partners, the IRC will ensure conflict-affected people have the information and skills to exercise power over where to live, and to ensure returnees to Myanmar are safe. The IRC in Thailand will expand projects to empower women and girls to make decisions at home and in their community, including when to marry, when to have children, and how to spend family money.

The IRC’s commitment to gender equality strives for equal outcomes for women and girls. To narrow the gender gap, the IRC will incorporate gender-focused programming into all activities.

The IRC in Thailand will meet these objectives by focusing on three key areas:

Safety

We will coordinate with IRC teams in Myanmar and other service providers to ensure the safety of refugees returning to Myanmar.

We will provide safe spaces for women and girls to learn how to prevent early marriage and sexual violence.

Health

We will offer quality reproductive health care services.

We will treat noncommunicable diseases such as chronic malnutrition (stunting).

Power

We will support organizations that empower women to participate in decisions regarding camp management.

 

Download the IRC's Thailand strategy action plan to learn more about our program priorities through 2020.