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Living in limbo: Burma's youth in Thailand see few opportunities to use education and vocational skills

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Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children Field Mission to Thailand, May 2008

Purpose of the Assessment

"Young people need to see their future, have a vision, see a way how to do it"
17-year-old female member of Karen Youth Organization in Mae Sot

The Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children (Women's Commission) traveled to the Thailand-Burma(1) border in May 2008 as part of its Displaced Youth Initiative, a global research and advocacy project that works to increase support for quality education and job training programs for displaced youth (15-24 years old). The three-year project looks at the skills and education young people need to move their lives forward, while they are displaced, when it is safe to return home or when they are resettled elsewhere.(2)The purpose of the two-week visit was to look at the educational needs of young people from Burma living in refugee camps in Thailand-what education and job training programs are available, what appears to be working and what more is needed to help young people make the transition from education programs into jobs or self-employment.

Women's Commission staff traveled to Bangkok and Tak and Mae Hong Son provinces in the northwest, visiting Mae La and Site 1 (Ban Mai Nai Soi) camps. The delegation held meetings with displaced young women and men; international and local NGOs; youth groups; UN agencies; and donors. As the situation along the Thailand-Burma border varies by location, the following should be read as a summary of observations, experiences and perspectives of individuals met, not as a comprehensive study. While the focus of the research was on young people from Burma living in refugee camps, the recommendations in this report may be appropriate for migrant workers and other displaced groups living in Thailand as well as in other protracted refugee situations around the world.

Key Findings

- While young people have had access to school through grade 10, they have had few opportunities to apply what they've learned or continue their education.

- Young people who participate in vocational training programs have few opportunities to use their skills to earn any money.

- Having spent their entire lives in camps, most young people do not have the ability or opportunity to identify market opportunities and explore job possibilities, even in the small in-camp economy.

- Many teachers are being resettled elsewhere, resulting in a shortage of refugee personnel who can pass on skills and knowledge to the next generation.