The Thai government invited UNHCR to begin working in Thailand in 1975 when hundreds of thousands of refugees fled to Thailand from Cambodia, Laos and Vietnam, in what became known as the Indochinese refugee crisis. More than 1.3 million refugees have been hosted by Thailand over the years.
Today there are about 88,000 registered refugees and some 8,000 asylum seekers in Thailand. Most refugees are ethnic minorities from Myanmar, mainly Karen and Karenni, who live in nine camps in four provinces along the Thai-Myanmar border. The Thai government runs all camps, with most assistance provided by non-governmental organisations (NGOs), while UNHCR focuses on protection activities and programmes to ensure that refugees live in safety and relative security within the camps.
UNHCR continues to advocate that refugees be given greater liberty to come and go from the nine camps, particularly to work in Thailand’s labour-short economy.
With little realistic prospect that Myanmar refugees in the camps can go home soon, many expressed interest in resettlement to third countries. Since resettlement began in 2005, more than 55,000 refugees from Myanmar (and a small number from other countries) have been resettled from Thailand. The United States, Canada and Australia have all committed to accept large numbers of refugees from Thailand. Other resettlement countries are Finland, Great Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden.
UNHCR has 78 national staff and 25 international staff working for the Thailand operation. More than half our staff members are in field offices serving the refugee camps: Kanchanaburi (nine national, three international), Mae Sot (14 national, four international), Mae Hong Son (11 national, one international) and Mae Sariang (11 national, three international). In Bangkok, 33 national staff members and 14 international staff members work for the Thailand operation.
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