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UNHCR Thailand

We have been working continuously with the government and NGOs in order to help and provide protection to refugees who live in refugee camp in Thailand by the invitation of Thai Government since 1975

UNHCR, present in Thailand since 1975, has helped the country meet the protection needs of successive massive influxes of refugees from Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and Myanmar. Today, there are an 102,251 (30 April 2017) Myanmar refugees remaining in nine camps in four provinces along the Thai-Myanmar border, most of them Karen and Karenni ethnic minorities. The Thai Government runs all camps, with most assistance provided by non-governmental organizations (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, and search for durable solutions.

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 80,000 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 also undertakes individual refugee status determination for urban asylum seekers and works jointly with the Royal Thai Government on the reduction of statelessness.

UNHCR has about 180 national and international staff working for the Thailand operation. Next to the Bangkok office, more than half our staff members work in field offices serving the refugee camps in Kanchanaburi, Mae Hong Son, Mae Sariang and Mae Sot.

The Royal Thai Government (RTG), together with international agencies and non-governmental organizations, as well as government and private donors, have a long tradition of working together to address the protection, assistance and durable solutions needs of successive influxes of refugees from Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam, Myanmar and beyond.

UNHCR has been present in Thailand since 1975, and won its second Nobel Peace Prize in 1981 in part for its humanitarian and non-political efforts in South East Asia arising from the “boat people” crisis which impacted not only Thailand but the entire region.

At present, Thailand continues to host some 99,000 refugees from Myanmar in the nine RTG run Temporary Shelters on the Thai/Myanmar border, in addition to 7000 urban refugees and asylum seekers from over 45 countries, and 490,000 persons registered by the RTG as stateless.

Today, the refugee and statelessness context in Thailand is much improved. 

Since the signing of a Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement, successful national elections and continuing positive developments in South East Myanmar, one of the world’s most protracted refugee situations, offer real opportunities for safe and dignified voluntary return.

Indeed, the RTG and Government of the Union of Myanmar, with the assistance of UNHCR and partners, facilitated the first official group of voluntary returns in October 2016.  Hundreds more have signed up for facilitated voluntary return and, over the past several years, some 15,000 have returned spontaneously.  

Accordingly, and while maintaining its traditional day-to-day focus on protection activities (including addressing child protection and SGBV issues), UNHCR and partners in both Thailand and Myanmar are working to support the facilitation of voluntary return and sustainable reintegration.

In these regards, largescale resettlement from the Temporary Shelters has come to an end, and UNHCR thanks the RTG and all resettlement countries for having generously provided safety and solutions for over 100,000 Myanmar refugees in Thailand for the last 10 years.

For urban refugees and asylum seekers, UNHCR hails the RTG’s 10 January 2017 Cabinet Resolution approving - in principle - a domestic refugee screening mechanism, as well as significant progress in securing access to alternatives to detention, especially for children, women and persons with medical needs.

Implementation of these measures, in addition to showing strong, tangible support for the global Comprehensive Refugee Response Framework, clearly demonstrate the ability to balance important national security needs with Thailand’s long tradition of humanitarian compassion. 

In the meantime, UNHCR will continue its full complement of protection and assistance activities for urban refugees and asylum seekers including, inter alia, refugee status determination and support for Thai language classes which allow refugee and asylum seeker children the opportunity to benefit from Thailand’s progressive “Education for All” policy while pursuing durable solutions.

Finally, UNHCR is helping Thailand’s ongoing efforts to resolve the nationality status of some 490,000 persons registered by RTG as “stateless”.  Since 2012, over 30,000 people have acquired nationality.

For its part, UNHCR and partners have established 14 “service points” in Chiang Rai province to assist individuals in making nationality applications, already directly benefiting some 16,000 individuals.

Thailand has also joined UNHCR’s global #IBelong Campaign to End Statelessness by 2024, and is now a leader of the core group of State parties to the “Friends of the Campaign”, underscoring its domestic commitment, as well as its regional and global leadership role in meaningfully addressing not only statelessness but also refugee issues, as the world deals with unprecedented levels of displacement arising from conflict and persecution.

UNHCR has about 180 national and international staff working for the Thailand operation. Next to the Bangkok office, more than half our staff members work in field offices serving the Temporary Shelters in Kanchanaburi, Mae Hong Son, Mae Sariang and Mae Sot.