Written by U Ne Oo on 1994-04-06

Action Proposal for Burma (Internal Communication)

Date: April 6, 1994.

From: Dr. U Ne Oo, Adelaide, Australia.

To Individuals:_______________________

& Groups : CRDB(Australia), T.R.W.(WA), Australia Burma Council, H.R.W.(New York), Burma Action(SA)

Note: I wish to thank all of you for writing to UN Special Rapporteur, Professor Y. Yokota( Newsitem included). Here again, your kindful support being called upon for the Burmese refugees in Thailand. Provided are a summary of Burmese refugee crisis in Thailand with related news items, the brodcasts and discussions. Sources report that the Royal Thai Government - especially Thai Prime Minister's Office and Foreign Ministry - are increasingly sympathetic to Burma situation. I therefore believe the encouragements from all of you can be a determining factor in granting asylum to Burmese refugees. Please give your support to this matter.

Call for Action: To write letter to the Prime Minister Chuan Leekpai, Government House, No 1. Phitsanuloke Road, Dusit, Bangkok 10300, Thailand. Fax: 66 2 280 0858.

And please send copy to Ms Sadako Ogata, UN High Commissioner for Refugees, Case Postale 2500, CH-1211 Geneve 2 - Depot, Switzerland.

1) Please raise your concern for the plight of displaced Burmese people in Thailand, with emphasis on the welfare, integrity oe welfare, integrity of person and other humanitarian concerns.

2) Urge the Royal Thai Government(RTG) to grant a temporary asylum to all displaced Burmese people in Thailand. Encourage the RTG to solve the Burmese refugee crisis in cooperation with UNHCR.

General Information: According to official sources, the total number of displaced Burmese in Thailand is 420,000 [1] which actual number may be higher. The RTG classify displaced Burmese into 3 categories: Burmese students(political refugees), Displaced persons (ethnic (ethnic refugees) and Illegal immigrants\\(including Burmese prostitutes).

Burmese Students

Mainly the students who participated in 1988 pro-democracy demonstrations and then fled to ethnic rebel forces at Thai-Burma border. The hardships in the jungles forced them to move further into Thailand. The total number of them is reported as 2500[1]. These students are not being recognized as `refugees' but rather as `persons of concerns to UNHCR' which virtually receive no better protection than illegal immigrants.


In late 1991, the RTG has adopted a policy to accommodate all Burmese students in the refugee camp in Ratchaburi province commonly known as `Safe Area'. The students who registered with the Thai Ministry of Interior(MOI) are permitted to go to this camp and UNHCR provide assistance. However, most Burmese students have refused to go to the camp.

One of the underlying resons seems to be the forced repatriation of 328 Burmese refugees from the Tak province in January 1989. This incidence took place just after an offician official visit of General Chavalit who, then was Commander in Chief and now the Minister of Interior, returned with fishing and logging concessions form Burma. Since then, the bilateral relation between Thailand and Burma have been improving and the two governments are working in close cooperations. Therefore, the Burmese students in Bangkok have suspicions about the RTG's offer, refuse to go to the `Safe Area', prefer to keep low profile and stay as illegal immigrants.

Ethnic Refugees

The ethnic minorities(Karrities(Karen, Mon and Karenni) have fled into Thailand since 1984. Their camps scatter along Thai-Burma border and total number is 70,000 [1]. Many of them are farmers, including some family and close relatives of ethnic freedom fighters inside Burma. The RTG recognize them as `displaced people', allow informal stay on Thai territory and grant limited freedom of movement. The RTG, however, do not allow the UNHCR to set up office to assist these refugees camps. The NGOs from various church groups provide humanitarian assistanc assistance to these refugees.

As the bilateral relation between Thailand and Burma continue to improve, the RTG increase pressure on the ethnic refugees and especially on the rebels operating along Thai-Burma border. In recent months, the pressure was increased further on the ethnic rebels to make ceasefire agreement with SLORC. The Mon refugees in particular are forced to move camps and being pressured to return to Burma. In March, the Mons protested against these measures which appear to link with the construction of the gasf the gas pipeline inside Mon ethnic rebel's territory [2].

Illegal Immigrants

Since 1988, people whose normal inhabitant is deep inside Burma are moving towards Thai provinces adjacent to Burma. Their number significantly increases after 1990-91 election crackdowns. Their main cause of flights are the supporter of the opposition party, forced labour, unfair taxation and bribery, the livelihood seriously disrupted by the Government's counter insurgency campaign. These people are clearly the victims of gross andgross and persistent violations of human rights in Burma and who found life is impossible under SLORC. The RTG classify these new comers as `illegal immigrants'.

These new comers are not being absorbed by the ethnic refugee groups whose camps are located along Thai-Burma border, a fact that highlights the limited ability of NGOs to cope with new comers. These refugees nevertheless found the Thai businesses as their rescue. These refugees work at Thai businesses at substantially low wages and manage to survive (daily wages ofy wages of refugees is reported to be 50 baht/day , the national minimum wage in Thailand 132 baht/day, a daily newspaper cost 12 baht)[2].

Since RTG classify these displaced people as `illegal immigrants', these people are more vulnerable of abuse and exploitations. Anyone who disobey or make protest at work will be fined for illegal entry and then deported back to Burma. The Asia Watch, for example, criticise this policy of RTG as the one that maintain the compliance of refugees and encourage the exploitations. Since ions. Since last June, the local Thai authorities allow these Burmese to register for entering Thailand (now official total 350,000)[1]. At the same time, however, Thai authorities are deporting them on a regular basis (see report on {\em Re:On the deportation of Burmese refugees from Thailand}[4]).

Burmese Prostitutes

Thai businesses are not alone in exploiting the fear and vulnerability of Burmese refugees. Such despicable act of exploiting the fear of `being deported back to Burma' and the vulnerability of `illegaf `illegal immigrants in Thailand' has been thoroughly repeated upon Burmese prostitutes by Thai pimps and underworld traffickers. Details of Burmese women miseries who have been caught in the Thai brothels are documented in the Asia Watch report `A Modern form of Slavery: trafficking of Burmese women and girls into brothels in Thailand'. Here is a short summary:

The young girls and women from Myanmar are `sold' to Agents at Thai border towns. These girls are lured into Thailand by brokers inside Burma but in some cases bye cases by the parents or relatives. The girl's family in return receive `present' from the Agent who also promise works in Thailand as waitresses, laundresses and house keepers. These girls are instead brought into brothels as prostitutes. The brothel owner consider the monies paid to the girls family as a `debt' owe to him. Being forced to serve as prostitutes, these Burmese girls have been continually transported from one brothel to another in order to have the `debt' repaid. Inhumane working conditions as well as refusal to giveto give medical attention to Burmese prostitutes are common in these brothels. There are numerous reports of forced miscarriage, physical abuses and illegal confinements upon Burmese prostitutes. Abuses by Thai pimps can not be reported to the police, since these girls are aliens and prostitutes.

Some girls rescued by NGOs told that they had tried to run away from brothel. However, since they cannot speak Thai or English and have not had enough monies, the local Thais and police simply sent them back to brothel ownerrothel owner. The only escape is the brothel being raided by police; and these girls are detained in the Immigration Detention Centre and then released upon paying fine for illegal entry to Thailand.

The inhumane working condition, combining with the condition of debt bondage and impossibility to escape tantamount to slavery for these girls, as Asia Watch have concluded.

In Closing

The reader may be able to notice now that a common fear for all displaced Burmese - from political activists to prostitutes - istutes - is being deported back to Burma. Unfortunately, this fear of refugees have been exploited by the Thai businesses as well as brothel owners.

The RTG's attitude towards these displaced people is in no way lacks sympathy or generosity. The RTG appear to be doing what it can to help refugees and try to solve the problem. However, the Burmese refugee problem has evolved into a major crisis which evidently is of beyond the Thailand's capacity. The problem is growing to become a threat to the regional security. The internationternational community must, therefore, be called upon to resolve the Burmese refugee problem.

Since Thailand is not a party to the 1951 international conventions relating to the Status of Refugees or to that of 1967 protocol, the UNHCR can not assist these refugees in practice. The root cause of the problem does boil down to the RTG in not respecting the Civil and Political Rights that guarantee freedom to seek asylum from persecution. However, the RTG is not alone in failing to protect refugees and not having a consistent onsistent laws to deal with unregulated population flows. Looking in a broader \\perspective, these nearly half million displaced Burmese, at their best, are being able to roam free on Thai soil and seek helps from local Thai communities. It is therefore of opinion that we should not push the RTG on human rights ground. Our concerns should appropriately be raised upon the humanitarian ground. The UNHCR should be called upon to protect all the displaced Burmese in Thailand and to assist their temporary stay.

Although Thailthough Thailand is not a signatory to the international conventions relating to the Status of Refugees, the RTG can enact a special legislation to protect refugees. The Vietnamese, Cambodian and Laotian refugees, for example, have the United Nations' protection under this special legislation known as `the Comprehensive Plan of Action(CPA) for Indo-Chinese refugees' and get their repatriation organized by UNHCR. The RTG should be called upon to enact a special legislation which is similar to that of CPA and let the UNHCR handle the dle the affair of Burmese refugees.


1. Far Eastern Economic Review, December 16, 1993.

2. The Nation, February 14, March 11, March 14, 1994.

3. V.O.A Broadcasts, March 17, March 25, 1994.

4. Discussion on soc.culture.thai, March 11, 1994.

Protection for refugees in Thailand