Wednesday, July 24, 2024
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From temporary shelters to permanent solutions

A New Path for Myanmar Refugees in Thailand

By Leon de Riedmatten

As we commemorate World Refugee Day 2024, we are called to reflect on the untapped potential of the Myanmar refugees who have found sanctuary in Thailand. This year, we mark 40 years since the first refugee camps were established along the Thai-Myanmar border.

For tens of thousands of individuals, these camps have been the only homes they have ever known. However, the time has come to rethink our approach and explore sustainable, long-term solutions that benefit both refugees and Thailand.

To date there are 97,000 refugees in nine camps. While some of these will be eligible for resettlement to third countries, tens of thousand are not. A return to Myanmar is not currently feasible, nor does it look likely for the significant future.

The current policy of housing refugees in temporary shelters is no longer sustainable. Refugees should not be forced to remain confined to temporary shelters for four more decades. 

It’s time to recognize that refugees are not just passive recipients of aid; they are educated, skilled, and resilient individuals who have thrived in managing their communities under challenging circumstances.

More than half of these refugees are of working age, and a significant number speak Thai fluently. Many have expressed a strong desire to integrate into Thai society and contribute to the country that has provided them with safety and shelter.

Integrating refugees into the Thai workforce is not just an act of charity—it is an economic imperative. Refugees bring with them a wealth of skills and experiences that can inject fresh energy and innovation into the Thai economy.

By integrating them into Thai society and providing them with the legal right to work, we empower them to build stable and secure futures for themselves and their families, reducing their reliance on aid and allowing them to contribute more meaningfully to society.

Moreover, allowing refugees to integrate would enable the Thai government to redirect resources currently used to manage refugee camps towards other critical areas. This shift would not only be more cost-effective but would also reduce the security risks associated with long-term refugee camps, which can sometimes become pull factors for further migration.

We do not have to look far to see the successful integration of people from Myanmar in Thai society. Thailand is home to large Shan, Mon, Karen and Karenni communities, whom have integrated successfully and have played vital roles in Thailand’s development. Their stories prove that integration is possible and beneficial, providing a model for how we can approach the current refugee situation.

The time for temporary fixes is over. As we mark 40 years since the establishment of these camps, it is imperative to seek permanent solutions for refugees who may never return to Myanmar due to ongoing conflicts.

By embracing a policy of integration, we can transform the status of these individuals from temporary residents to permanent, productive members of Thai society.

This World Refugee Day, let us challenge ourselves to see beyond the confines of refugee camps. Let us recognize that the true potential of these individuals lies not in their capacity to survive in temporary shelters but in their ability to thrive as active participants in Thai economy and society.

By taking this bold step, we can unlock the potential of Myanmar refugees who have long called Thailand home, ensuring that they—and Thailand—can look forward to a future of shared prosperity and growth.

Leon de Riedmatten is the executive director at The Border Consortium. For over 30 years, he has carried out humanitarian missions all over the world, starting with the International Committee of the Red Cross (ICRC), then the United Nations (UN), the Association François-Xavier Bagnoud (AFXB), the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue (HDC) and the Peace Nexus Foundation (PN).

DVB publishes a diversity of opinions that does not reflect DVB editorial policy. We’d like to hear what you think about this or any of our stories: [email protected]


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