Beyond the Refugee-Migrant Binary? Refugee Camp Residency Along the Myanmar-Thailand Border

  • T. F. RhodenEmail author


Processes of mixed migration beyond the reified “refugee-migrant binary” of migration studies are an empirical reality along the Myanmar-Thailand border. Utilizing a survey of 3874 mobile individuals from Myanmar in Thailand as a case study, this paper examines the impact of past experiences of migrants on the likelihood that any one of them will reside inside a refugee camp instead of outside of one in Thailand. A dataset is constructed that specifically intersects “refugee” communities with “labor migrant” communities in order to measure the importance of factors of socioeconomic, self-identity, past persecution, and social network considerations. Though indicators like religion, ethnicity, and the fear to return are salient in the likelihood of living inside a camp, family location is the strongest single predictor variable for whether or not an individual from Myanmar will inhabit a refugee camp. Future research may benefit by researching across migrant communities normally considered disparate.


Refugee-migrant binary Mixed migration Refugee camps Burmese migration 


  1. Barron, S. (2004). Between worlds: twenty years on the border. Bangkok, Thailand: Burmese Border Consortium.Google Scholar
  2. Barta, P. (2012). Myanmar's growing, but has a long way to go. Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from
  3. Bowles, E. (1998). From village to camp: refugee camp life in transition on the Thailand-Burma border. Forced Migration Review, (2), 11–14.Google Scholar
  4. Bradford, W., & Vicary, A. (2005). Preliminary survey results about Burmese migrant workers in Thailand: state/division of origin, year of entry, minimum wages and work permits. Burma Economic Watch, (1), 3–25.Google Scholar
  5. Brees, I. (2008). Refugee business: strategies of work on the Thai-Burma border. Journal of Refugee Studies, 21(3), 380–397. Scholar
  6. Brees, I. (2010). Refugees and transnationalism on the Thai–Burmese border. Global Networks, 10(2), 282–299. Scholar
  7. Chang, W. C. (2001). From war refugees to immigrants: the case of the KMT Yunnanese Chinese in northern Thailand. International Migration Review, 35(4), 1086–1105. Scholar
  8. Chang, W. C. (2009). Venturing into “barbarous” regions: transborder trade among migrant Yunnanese between Thailand and Burma, 1960s–1980s. Journal of Asian Studies, 68(2), 543–572. Scholar
  9. CIA. (1984). Burma: getting tough with the insurgents. (CIA-RDP04T00367R000301660001-7). Central Intelligence Agency (CIA) Retrieved from
  10. DRC. (2014). Protecting people on the move: mixed migration in volatile contexts (Brief #03). Copenhagen, Denmark: Danish Refugee Council (DRC) Retrieved from
  11. Gibson, R. M., & Chen, W. (2011). The secret army: Chiang Kai-shek and the drug warlords of the golden triangle. Singapore: John Wiley & Sons.Google Scholar
  12. Hathaway, J. C. (1991). Reconceiving refugee law as human right protection. Journal of Refugee Studies, 4(2), 113–131. Scholar
  13. Holborn, L. W. (1939). The league of nations and the refugee problem. Annals of the American Academy of Political and Social Science, 203, 124–135. Scholar
  14. Holborn, L. W. (1968). Refugee migration in the twentieth century. In S. D. Franklin (Ed.), World migration in modern times (pp. 153–159). Englewood Cliffs: Prentice-Hall.Google Scholar
  15. IOM. (1998). Irregular migration and mixed flows: IOM's approach. International Organization for Migration (IOM). Retrieved from
  16. IOM. (2016). Assessing potential changes in migration patterns of Myanmar migrants and their impacts on thailand: supplementary report 2016. International Organization for Migration (IOM). Retrieved from
  17. Kmonpetch, A. (2016). Prevailing constraints in the search for durable solutions for refugees in displacement along the Thai-Myanmar border. Rian Thai: International Journal of Thai Studies, 9, 1–27.Google Scholar
  18. Khine Ngwe Hnin Zaw. (2013). Irregular migration from Myanmar: in pursuit of mon migrants’ human security through social networks. (PhD), University of Tokyo. Retrieved from Accessed 2016-07-07.
  19. Kulischer, E. M. (1948). Europe on the move. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  20. Kunz, E. F. (1973). The refugee in flight: kinetic models and forms of displacement. International Migration Review, 7(2), 125–146. Scholar
  21. Lang, H. J. (2002). Fear and sanctuary: Burmese refugees in Thailand. Ithaca: Cornell Southeast Asia Program.Google Scholar
  22. May Saw Yu. (2015). Migration as a challenge for Myanmar’s socio-economic development: case studies of Hpa-an and Mrauk-U townships in Myanmar. Paper presented at the International Conference on Burma/Myanmar Studies, Chiang Mai University, Thailand.Google Scholar
  23. NAMMTF. (2016). Information sheet. North Afrian Mixed Migration Task Force (NAMMTF). Retrieved from
  24. Norum, R., Mostafanezhad, M., & Sebro, T. (2016). The chronopolitics of exile: hope, heterotemporality and NGO economics along the Thai–Burma border. Critique of Anthropology, 36(1), 61–83. Scholar
  25. Okamoto, I. (2009). Issues affecting the movement of rural labour in Myanmar: Rakhine case study. Institute of Developing Economies (IDE) Discussion Paper, (206), 1–28.Google Scholar
  26. Panam Awatsaya, Khaing Mar Kyaw Zaw, Caouette, T., & Sureeporn Punpuing. (2004). Migrant domestic workers: from Burma to Thailand. Bangkok, Thailand: Institute for Population and Social Research, Mahidol University.Google Scholar
  27. Pearson, R., & Kusakabe, K. (2012). Thailand's hidden workforce: Burmese migrant women factory workers. London: Zed Books.Google Scholar
  28. Potocky-Tripodi, M. (2002). Best practices for social work with refugees and immigrants. New York: Columbia University Press.Google Scholar
  29. Prakatuttisan Kanchana [กาญจนะ ประกาศวุฒิสาร]. (2003). Thahan Chin Khanachat (KMT) TokKhang Thang Phakneua Prathat Thai [ทหารจีนคณะชาติ (ก๊กมินตั๋ง) ตกค้างทางภาคเหนือประเทศไทย]. Chiang Mai, Thailand: สยามรัตน พริ้นติ้ง.Google Scholar
  30. Prema-chandra Athukorala, Manning, C., & Wickramasekara Piyasiri. (2000). Growth, employment and migration in Southeast Asia: structural change in the greater Mekong countries (Vol. Northampton, MA): Edward Elgar.Google Scholar
  31. Rhoden, T. F. (2015) Dataset of Burmese migration-concept crossover in Thailand. ResearchGate, (November 25). Retrieved from doi:
  32. Rhoden, T. F., & Unger, D. (2015). No Burmese returning: economics across Myanmar-Thailand border. International Journal of East Asian Studies, 19(2), 51–70.Google Scholar
  33. Richmond, A. H. (1995). Global Apartheid: refugees, racism, and the New World Order. New York: Oxford University Press.Google Scholar
  34. RMMS. (2014). Going West: contemporary mixed migration trends from the Horn of Africa to Libya and Europe. Nairobi, Kenya: Regional Mixed Migration Secretariat (RMMS). Retrieved from
  35. Robinson, W. C. (1998). Terms of refuge: the Indochinese exodus and the international response. London: Zed Books.Google Scholar
  36. Sciortino, R., & Sureeporn Punpuing. (2009). International migration in Thailand. Bangkok, Thailand: International Organization for Migration (IOM).Google Scholar
  37. Simpson, J. H. (1938). The refuge problem. International Affairs (Royal Institute of International Affairs 1931–1939), 17(5), 607–628.Google Scholar
  38. South, A. (2008). Ethnic politics in Burma: states of conflict. New York: Routledge.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  39. Srawooth Paitoonpong, & Chalamwong Yongyuth. (2012). Managing international labor migration in ASEAN: a case of Thailand. Bangkok, Thailand: Thailand Development Research Institute.Google Scholar
  40. TBC. (2016). Six-month programme reports. Retrieved from
  41. Thawnghmung, A. M. (2008). The Karen revolution in Burma: diverse voices, uncertain ends. Washington, D.C.: East-West Center.Google Scholar
  42. Thet, M. M., & Pholphrirul, P. (2016). The perception of Myanmar development on its return migrants: implications for Burmese migrants in Thailand. Journal of International Migration and Integration, 17(4), 995–1014. Scholar
  43. Unger, D. (1998). Building social capital in Thailand: fibers, finance and infrastructure. New York: Cambridge Univeristy Press.Google Scholar
  44. UNHCR. (2007). Refugee protection and mixed migration: a 10-point plan of action. United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Retrieved from
  45. Van Hear, N. (1998). New diasporas: the mass exodus, dispersal and regrouping of migrant communities. Seattle: University of Washington Press.Google Scholar
  46. Van Hear, N. (2011). Policy primer: mixed migration: policy challenges. Oxford, UK: The Migration Observatory, Centre on Migration, Policy and Society (COMPAS), University of Oxford. Retrieved from
  47. Wang, L. 王柳蘭. (2008). Kita Tai ni Okeru Un'nan hito `Nanmin' no Teichaku Shoki Katei ni Okeru Seizon Senryaku: Kokuseki Shutoku to Taiwan to no Nettowaku Kochiku o Megutte [北タイにおける雲南人「難民」の 定着初期過程における生存戦略:国籍取得と台湾とのネットワーク構築をめぐって]. Nenpo Tai Kenkyu [年報 タイ研究], 8, 51–70.Google Scholar
  48. WB. (2016). World Bank Open Data. Retrieved from
  49. Webster, D. (1851). Sketch of the Life of Louis Kossuth, Governor of Hungary: Together with the Declaration of Hungarian Independence; Kossuth's Address to the People of the United States; All is Great Speeches in England; and the Letter of Daniel Webster to Chevalier Hulsemann. New York, NY: Stringer & Townsend.Google Scholar
  50. Westermeyer, J. (1990). Motivations for uprooting and migration. In W. H. Holtzman & H. H. Bornemann (Eds.), Mental health of immigrants and refugees (pp. 78–89). Austin: Hogg Foundation for Mental Health..Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature B.V. 2018

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Department of Political ScienceNorthern Illinois UniversityDeKalbUSA
  2. 2.Institute of Southeast Asian AffairsChiang Mai UniversityChiang MaiThailand

Personalised recommendations