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


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.

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  1. 1.

    The 1951 Convention considered a refugee as someone who “owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion, is out-side the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country; or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence as a result of such events, is unable or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to return to it.”

  2. 2.

    Though this number has narrowed somewhat by 2015 with Thailand’s GPD per capita at $5816 compared to Myanmar’s at $1204—about four and a half times larger (WB, 2016).

  3. 3.

    However, response rate for each particular question varies. See original dataset at Rhoden (2015). Respondents also had the choice of questionnaires in Sgaw Karen, English, and Thai since many of the respondents were not native Burmese speakers (though no one elected for the Thai version in the end).

  4. 4.

    Compare to those job descriptions in Awatsaya Panam, Khaing Mar Kyaw Zaw, Caouette, and Sureeporn Punpuing (2004, p. 15); Bradford and Vicary (2005, p. 15).


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Rhoden, T.F. Beyond the Refugee-Migrant Binary? Refugee Camp Residency Along the Myanmar-Thailand Border. Int. Migration & Integration 20, 49–65 (2019).

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  • Refugee-migrant binary
  • Mixed migration
  • Refugee camps
  • Burmese migration