Statement by the Mekong Migration Network on International Migrants Day
Mixed Migration from Myanmar
18 December 2023
On the occasion of International Migrants Day, the Mekong Migration Network (MMN) calls on the Thai Government to review its policies regarding migrants arriving from post-coup Myanmar. As a network of Civil Society Organisations (CSO) which works to promote and protect the rights of migrants, we call for a comprehensive policy response to the complex mixed migration situation currently unfolding.
The post-coup violence, economic collapse and humanitarian catastrophe inside Myanmar has prompted ever larger numbers of people to cross borders in search of safety, survival and sustainable livelihoods. As of October 2023, an estimated 1 in 5 of all non-Thai nationals in border provinces are reported to have arrived since the 2021 military coup. Following the publication in August 2023 of Neighbours in Need— MMN’s study examining Thailand’s response to mixed migration from Myanmar—the fate of these migrants appears increasingly uncertain. With no end in sight to the armed conflict, which has devastated the economy, there is little prospect that migrants can return to Myanmar anytime soon.
To ameliorate the situation for recent migrants, a comprehensive policy response is required. Humanitarian assistance is urgently needed for migrant communities along the Thai-Myanmar border, including those housed in so called “Temporary Safe Areas”, who should be provided with pathways to sustainable livelihoods in Thailand. Improved cooperation and collaboration between government agencies, international donors and local CSOs that have decades of experience using cross-border networks, is vital to ensure that aid reaches those in need.
More generally, migration policy reforms that facilitate the documentation of all new arrivals is a top priority. While Thailand provides relative flexibility for migrants already in the country, new arrivals from Myanmar struggle to regularise their status. Without proper documentation, migrants face an ever-present risk of arrest, detention, and deportation. They are also vulnerable to exploitation in the workplace, have limited access to healthcare and are unable to lead dignified lives.
As we mark International Migrant Day, MMN calls on the Royal Thai Government to implement the following recommendations, as part of an inclusive and comprehensive policy response:
- Halt the detention and forced return of all people entering Thailand from Myanmar whether for work or refuge. Any returns that do take place must be free of compulsion and with informed consent. Those who have fled and wish to return to assess the situation in Myanmar should not be penalised if they later re-enter Thailand.
- Provide immediate adequate shelter, food and essentials in areas safe from the Myanmar military and accessible to aid organisations to people fleeing Myanmar.
- Conduct voluntary needs-assessment interviews with Myanmar migrants who may require special protection, related to both being migrants and to the situation in Myanmar. This can be done in coordination with international, national, and local organisations.
- Grant documentation that provides individuals with leave to remain, access to employment, health care, education, and travel within the country.
- Facilitate third-country resettlement for Myanmar nationals where needed, in coordination with international agencies and embassies.
Finally, we urge the Royal Thai Government to step up its diplomatic efforts and work constructively with other ASEAN member states and the wider international community, to alleviate this mixed migration crisis at its source, by helping to restore democratic civilian rule in Myanmar.
 Figures cited in IOM, “Mobility Tracking Myanmar Migrants”, October 2023, accessible at https://reliefweb.int/report/thailand/iom-mobility-tracking-myanmar-migrants-october-2023.