Last Updated: Tuesday, 21 November 2017, 15:02 GMT

U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2004 - Thailand

Publisher United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants
Publication Date 25 May 2004
Cite as United States Committee for Refugees and Immigrants, U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2004 - Thailand , 25 May 2004, available at: [accessed 22 November 2017]
DisclaimerThis is not a UNHCR publication. UNHCR is not responsible for, nor does it necessarily endorse, its content. Any views expressed are solely those of the author or publisher and do not necessarily reflect those of UNHCR, the United Nations or its Member States.

Thailand hosted over 420,000 refugees during the year, mostly (about 400,000) from Myanmar, including about 200,000 ethnic Shan, about 140,000 Karen and Karenni residing in official camps along the border, and about 50,000 of other ethnicities who typically fled forced relocation, internment, and forced labor. In addition there are about 10,000 Myanmarese political activists seeking refugee in Thailand in addition to the 2,000 registered persons of concern.

An additional 15,000 Laotian Hmong continued to live at a temple in the Northeast where they enjoyed some protection under the patronage of a respected Buddhist monk. However, with his recent death, their protection has become more tenuous and the United States is seeking to resettle them.

There were an additional 250 refugees, mostly from Cambodia China, and Laos. There were about 4,000 asylum seekers at the end of the year, half from Myanmar. During 2003, UNHCR received 3,000 applications for asylum from Myanmar alone, 657 of which were recognized, while about 2,000 remained pending.

Forced Return

Thailand informally deported Myanmarese at a rate of 10,000 per month and handed 400 more over to the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC), including some activists, labor organizers, and members of ethnic minorities associated with the resistance. The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) had access to names of only those in the latter, formal process. Thai authorities arrested a group of 120 refugees with UNHCR registration papers while they were foraging for forest supplies outside the camp and handed them over to the SPDC.

About 3,000 returned to Myanmar, mostly due to Thailand forcibly relocating their camps to less secure locations close to the border. It is unclear if their return is permanent.

Thai authorities did not allow new refugees to enter camps officially as provincial admissions boards, which screen refugees into camps, had not met for three years. As a result, 20,000 ethnic Karen and Karenni live in the camps unofficially, while a minimum of 50,000 members of persecuted ethnic minorities live as "illegal migrants" in Thailand. Some 1,000 more Shan per month entered Thailand. Thailand only allowed about 400 Shan fleeing fighting to live along the border and receive international aid. About 3,000 Shan live in three small settlements just opposite Thailand inside Burma. Only those Shan who make it to Bangkok without authorities arresting them can interview with the UNHCR for refugee status. There were only 33 recognized Shan refugees and about 200 asylum seekers registered with the UNHCR in Bangkok at year's end.

Thailand relocated Mae Kong Kah and Site One refugee camps housing ethnic Karen and Karenni, to more dangerous locations less than five kilometers from the border, forcing close to 35,000 people to rebuild their homes. The Myanmarese military periodically raids border camps, killing some inhabitants and burning thousands of homes. Several thousand refugees returned to Myanmar instead.

New Developments

Thai authorities increasingly harassed, and intimidated nongovernmental organizations (NGOs) reporting on the situation in Myanmar and assisting displaced Myanmarese. In early 2004, UNHCR and the Thai government agreed to place urban refugees, many of whom are involved in such NGO activity, in refugee camps along the border a few miles from Myanmarese intelligence and troops.

UNHCR decided to "prepare areas of return" for refugees to be repatriated to Myanmar. About 2,500 continued to flee into Thailand from eastern Myanmar alone.


The United States has offered to resettle the majority of the Laotian Hmong residing at the Temple compound in the northeast in 2004. The United States also agreed to accept Myanmarese urban refugees. Many Myanmarese refugees have resided in camps for as many as 20 years (see "Myanmarese Refugees in Thailand: No Freedom, No Choices").

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