Burmese continue to flood the Thailand-Myanmar border, fleeing unrest

Police searched a house in northern Chiang Rai province yesterday and found 71 Burmese migrants hiding inside. A Thai man who was also at the house told police he was hired to pick up the migrants who illegally crossed the Myanmar border and bring them to the house. The migrants told police they were going to Bangkok to find work. Unrest in Myanmar has continued since the military coup that took power in the country last year, and Burmese people continue to travel illegally to Thailand to flee the situation.

The house in Mae Sai district contained 24 men, 36 women and 11 children, all from Myanmar. A 29-year-old Thai man was inside and told police he had been hired as a driver to pick up Burmese migrants from the roadside in Piyaphon village on the Thai side of the border and drive them to the house in Mae Sai district. Every time he made the trip, he was paid 2000-3000 baht. The man said he knew of another van that was taking the Myanmar migrants across the border.

The tenant of the property is a 30-year-old man from Shan State in Myanmar, who has been accused of many times bringing migrants across the border illegally. Police are coordinating with local authorities to apprehend everyone behind the operation.

Since a military coup took power in Myanmar last February, a civil war has erupted in the country between the military and the Campaign for Civil Disobedience (CDM), a group of opposition activists. The CDM organized mass protests against the coup. The military has responded with ruthless violence against civilian militias and airstrikes on civilians. The Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP) says 1,503 Burmese have been killed since the military regime came to power last year.

Violence is nothing new in Myanmar. Rohingya Muslims have suffered from discriminatory policies in Myanmar (formerly Burma) since the 1970s. Violence against the ethnic group was renewed in 2017 when Myanmar’s security forces raped and murdered Rohingya Muslims and set fire to their villages, prompting an exodus of Rohingya Muslims to flee to Bangladesh and Thailand. The United Nations called the situation a genocide.

Political unrest in Myanmar has pushed many Burmese into poverty. Jobs in Myanmar have dried up since the coup, forcing many Burmese to make arduous journeys through the jungle or in cramped vans to try to get to Thailand. Despite the risk of arrest and deportation by Thai police, illegal entry into Thailand is the only available economic lifeline for many Burmese refugees.

For undocumented migrants in Thailand, living under the radar is tough due to overcrowded housing, fear of authorities and low wages. Burmese migrants often find themselves in low-paid factory jobs or farm jobs in the hot sun. But many have no choice but to enter Thailand illegally, because without the appropriate papers there is no legal way into the country.

“The Thai government regards most as economic migrants rather than political refugees and requires them to obtain a registration card in order to stay legally. In practice, only a small number can afford the registration fees or provide the required documentation, so their lives are a constant struggle to avoid government detection…many live and work illegally and have no access to education, health care or essential services,” wrote the Neue Humanitarian.

The Thai government has in the past allowed refugees from Myanmar to stay in nine camps along the border between the two countries. However, recognition as an asylum seeker is particularly difficult, so entering Thailand illegally is the preferred option for many Burmese fleeing their homeland. The camps are a temporary solution to escape violence and many asylum seekers flee the camps to seek work. In December 2021 and January 2022, the Thai government confirmed that 9,735 people in Myanmar fled escalating violence in Kayin and Kayah states and fled across the border to Tak and Mae Hong Son provinces.

The International Labor Organization estimates that 1.8 million registered and unregistered migrants live in Thailand and the UN refugee agency reports another 123,000 recognized refugees living in the nine camps along the border.


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