The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is concerned that there are significant numbers of Burmese living in Thailand who qualify for and deserve international protection and assistance even though they do not have access to proper registration processes. Without a transparent, humane and lawful asylum policy for Burmese people entering Thailand, it is impossible to estimate the percentage of bona fide refugees that are mixed into the group of migrants who have left Burma solely for other reasons. The lack of systematic data to document the reasons people flee Burma provides the Thai authorities with the excuse to treat the Burmese living outside the refugee camps as mere economic migrants, subject to deportation. It also weakens the leverage that agencies working with the Burmese living in Thailand have to advocate on their behalf.
With this in mind, FIC researcher Karen Jacobsen helped IRC design a survey that documented the experiences of Burmese people living in border areas of Thailand, and explored whether their experience in Burma might mean that they merited international protection as refugees. The data reveals significant differences in the demographic and socioeconomic makeup of the three sites, as well as differences in the reasons the respondents left Burma. Our findings suggest that a great number of currently unprotected Burmese in Thailand, possibly as many as fifty percent, merit further investigation as to their refugee status; and that only a small number of Burmese who warrant refugee status and attendant services actually receive any aid or protection either from the Thai government or from international aid agencies.