It has no refugee law or formalized asylum procedures.The lack of a legal framework leaves refugees and asylum seekers in a precarious state, making their stay in Thailand uncertain and their status unclear.Burmese refugees in Thailand face a stark choice: they can stay in one of the refugee camps along the border with Burma and be relatively protected from arrest and summary removal to Burma but without freedom to move or work.Or, they can live and work outside the camps, but typically without recognized legal status of any kind, leaving them at risk of arrest and deportation.If we speak out too much, the chains around us will be tightened.” Refugees in the camps also find themselves subject to abuse and exploitation at the hands of other refugees.
This report looks at the lives both of refugees inside the camps on the Thai-Burma border as well as of Burmese living outside of the camps, many of whom are, in fact, refugees, even though they have not been officially recognized as such, in large part because they are precluded from lodging refugee claims with the government or with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR).
Despite decades of experience with hosting millions of refugees, Thailand’s refugee policies remain fragmented, unpredictable, inadequate and ad hoc, leaving refugees unnecessarily vulnerable to arbitrary and abusive treatment.
Thailand is not a party to the 1951 Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees (1951 Refugee Convention) or its 1967 Protocol.
Starting in January 2004, the Thai government stopped allowing UNHCR to conduct refugee status determination interviews for Burmese refugees and directed that all Burmese refugees should live in the Thai-Burma border camps.
The government has refused to screen or register all but a small fraction of the new arrivals since 2004, leaving over a third of the camp residents unregistered, and thus regarded as illegal.