As mentioned in our July post, two master's students from England spent time systematically asking the refugees in-depth questions about their hopes for return to Burma, their liminal status in Thailand, and their best chances for a good livelihood along the Thai-Burmese border. We have been using the information they collected in our latest needs assessments for new services.
Among their findings are that many of the younger refugees stated that Shan State in Burma represented "home" to them, even though they were born in Thailand. More pragmatic factors, such as employment and Thai citizenship, tend to influence their place of residency but not their sense of home:
“I don’t want to go back because I have this house but of course Shan state is
always in my heart, my motherland (laughs).”
Still, for many, the political instability at home looms as large (or larger) as a "push" factor than the "pull" factor of economic prosperity in Thailand.
“I sometimes think about Shan state and I want to go back but I know it is too
dangerous. If Burma was peaceful and had no military [rule] like Thailand of course I
would go back.”
“I miss Shan state, but I don’t miss that people were so poor, and we could only just eat, and had to wear many old clothes stitched together. But in Thailand... it is easier to live and make money and even second hand clothes are so much better than in Shan state."
As the refugees have described to BRP staff before, Shan migrants in Thailand both feel like "caged animals" and second-rate citizens "below" Thai nationals:
“I am still scared to live in Thailand because they can still kill, arrest, do anything, although it is still safer than in Shan state.”
“If Burma is a peaceful and developed country I would go back because we have
land and garden there and in Thailand we have no human rights.”
At the same time, some also expressed a counternarrative, that the Shan performed essential tasks that Thais no longer desired.
Caught between such push and pull factors, the refugees' temporary residence is their only means of being-- As one woman described her guest worker visa, "This passport is my life."