Myanmar: Planning for the future - The impact of resettlement on the remaining camp population
For more than 20 years, refugees from Burma have been fleeing to Thailand to seek refuge from the practices of human rights abuse, forced labour, arbitrary arrest and detention, torture, and extrajudicial killing, carried out by the authoritarian regime in Burma. Of the hundreds of thousands of Burmese who currently reside in Thailand, some 150,000 live in refugee camps, where opportunities for durable solutions to their protracted displacement have, until recently, been scarce. Since 2005, however, efforts to resettle considerable numbers of Burmese refugees to third countries have been underway.
As the resettlement program gathers momentum and people prepare to depart for a new life in third countries, there is a clear need to understand the impact on camp management and services. For many people, resettlement offers renewed hope, opportunities, and a permanent solution away from prolonged encampment. However, the departure of skilled, educated, and experienced camp staff and community leaders from camp programs and services has generated concerns about how best to mitigate the negative impacts on service delivery to the remaining camp population.
The goal of this study, contained in the CCSDPT Terms of Reference, was to a carry out a review of the impact of the resettlement of Burmese refugees residing in camps along the Thai-Burmese border on camp management and services. The tasks were to assess the actual and anticipated impacts of resettlement on the remaining population, to study interventions already being undertaken or under consideration, and to make recommendations for a strategic response.
There were quantitative and qualitative dimensions to the research. Quantitatively, statistical data were gathered on the number of educated/skilled/experienced people in each camp, the numbers required to run camp programs and services, and the numbers of those who have already begun the resettlement process. Analysis of this data allowed for estimated projections of future educated/non-educated populations in 2007 and 2008. The impact of resettlement was also investigated qualitatively, in order to understand more precisely the realities of program and service delivery. During the course of all interviews, the researchers emphasised the neutrality of the study with regards to the resettlement issue, allowing respondents to identify their own assessments and priorities.
Current Context of Resettlement
Resounding themes throughout the course of the consultation illustrate the context within which resettlement is occurring in Thailand. First, it is the overall situation in which refugees find themselves today that contributes to their decisions to seek resettlement, or even consider it, as an option. The continuing conflict in Burma has led to prolonged encampment in Thailand for long-term camp residents, for over 20 years. At present, camp residents are restricted in their movements. In general, these are the factors that are encouraging refugees to resettle, rather than a deep-seated desire to move permanently to a third country. Second, and related, uncertainty about the future informs every aspect of refugees' decisions about resettlement, from deciding whether or not they should apply at all, to considering when they should apply (immediately or in a few years time), with which family members they should apply, and to which resettlement country they should apply.