Health Rights and Health Problems of Migrants Living in the Thai-Burma Border Region: Narcotics, Debt Bondage, and Refugee Camps

Understanding migration is fundamental to our modern view of the world. Forced migration is one of the biggest transformative factors of our time. Health rights of migrants are embedded within human rights. Nation states and global agencies are challenged by the movement of people and their duty to uphold health and human rights of asylum seekers and forced migrants. It is important for professionals working in fields of development and migration to comprehend the complexities involved in achieving health for vulnerable populations.

This book details the origins of health rights from the Declaration of Human Rights in 1948. It analyses health rights as they exist in the real world of forced migration and protracted refugee situations. Migration from Burma to Thailand represents a long established forced migration pattern and lessons are drawn from studying this situation. Moving beyond the limited and failed refugee regimes it is recommended that resources be mobilized to promote migrant self-sufficiency. Sustainable living and aid relief care needs to be administered to promote development strategies with capacity building and democratic processes within migrant groups.


“This work will help NGO’s and international agencies with lessons from past practices and ideas how their activities might be changed to give more adequate support to both migrants and host countries.”

-Prof. Jo. M. Martins,
Macquarie University

“All in all, the book provides a detailed overview of the relevant literature and analyzes the problem rightly as a multidimensional complexity.”

-Prof. Georg F. Simet,
Nuess University for International Business

“There is great clarity in the presentation of the material...the thesis is effective.”

-Prof. Linda Turner,
University of New England School of Health

Table of Contents

List of Figures
List of Tables
Abstract i
Foreword by Jo. M. Martins v
Acknowledgements ix
List of Acronyms and Abbreviations xi
Burma or Myanmar? xvii

Introduction 1
The Background 2
Outline of the Chapters 6
The Approach Taken 7
Part 1: Migration and Rights 9
Chapter 1: The Challenge of Migration
Process and People 9
Migration, Development and Health 13
Classifying Migrants 23
Examples of Sustainable and Non-Sustainable
Livelihoods for Migrants from Burma Living in
Thailand: 26
Globalization, Trade, Nation-States and Migration 27
Informal Economy and Burma-Thai Migrants: 29
Prime Actors in Debates and Dilemmas in
International Migration 31
Debt Bondage and Working Conditions on the
Burma-Thai Border: 38
Free Economic Zones and Cheap Migrant Labour 39
Regional Development with Benefits and Costs
To Marginalised States: 41
Social Cohesion in the Cross-Border Area
Population: 41
Regulating Migration 42
Forced Migration 48
Estimates of Numbers of Different Categories
of Forced Migrants Globally: 51
Refugees in Neighboring Countries: 54
The Location of Refugees: 55
Trafficking 58
Trafficking as a Business: 63
Governance 63
Regimes 68
Displacement 71
Summary 72
Chapter 2: The Burma-Thai Border: Place 73
Burma 74
History, government and ethnic groups 74
Military and Non-Combatants: 80
International relations 82
The Politics of Burma’s Position: 84
Drugs 85
Narcotics Money: 86
Causes of displacement and forced migration
from Burma 87
Summary of Burma 90
Thailand 95
Politics 95
Cross-border relations with Burma, Thai
nationalism and migration management 99
Thailand’s Attitude Towards Migrants: 99
Summary of Thailand 103
The Borderlands 106
Terminology and historical background 106
Categories of migrants in the borderlands 110
Borderland camps 112
Protracted Refugee Situations: 115
Displacement persons and self-settlers in the
borderlands 115
Displaced Persons and Crimes Against Humanity
in Eastern Burma: 120
Communities of self-settled migrants 121
Employment of migrants 126
Labour Rights: 126
Working Arrangements for Thais and Migrants: 131
Trafficking 134
Integration of migrants into Thai society 136
Resources in the borderlands 140
The Wealth of the Borderlands: 140
Containing the borderlands 141
Summary of the borderlands 144
Chapter 3: Rights 145
Human Rights 145
Binding on Signatories: 146
Human Security 148
Refugee Rights 152
Durable Solutions for Refugees: 157
Health Rights 159
States’ Obligations to Fulfil Health Rights: 160
Trade and Health 164
Millennium Development Goals 166
Employee Rights 172
Children’s and Women’s Rights 175
Summary 176
Part 2: Migration and Rights in Context 179
Chapter 4: Putting Process, People, Place and Rights
Together 179
Prolonged and Enduring Assault of Displacement 180
Protracted Refugee Situations: 180
Refugee Manipulation 181
Refugee Manipulation: 182
Informal Trade 186
Life for Self-settled Migrants in the Borderlands 187
Facts and figures 189
Housing and village life 201
Poverty 201
Health 202
Living illegally 203
Ethnicity 205
Suffering 205
Summary of the migrant’s stories 206
Illnesses Affecting Migrants 207
HIV 207
Malaria 210
Tuberculosis 212
Impact of Refugee and Displacement Trauma 213
Chapter 5: Lessons Learnt 219
Lesson One: Examining Abuses, Applying
Solutions 219
Poverty 219
Health needs 221
Health interventions 221
Lesson Two: Holding the Rights, Bearing the Duty 226
Poverty and Risk: 228
Lesson Three: Promoting Self-sufficiency 229
Summary 232
Chapter 6: Lessons to Apply 235
Asylum-Migration Nexus 236
Asylum-Migration Nexus: 238
Self-Settled Migrants and Protracted
Refugee Situations: 244
Internal and External Collaborative
Partnerships 244
Corruption and Health Rights: 254
Self-sufficiency and Sustainable Living 257
Sustainable living as the ‘holding position’ 257
Sustainable living and NGOs 266
Democratic Collective Voice 272
Chapter 7: Concluding Remarks 277
Appendix 1: List of Cease-Fire Groups 281
Appendix 2: Report of the Special Rapporteur
for the United Nations about Thailand’s
Management of trafficking and Burma-Thai
Migration 284
Appendix 3: Articles from the Convention on
The Rights of the Children 291
Appendix 4: An Overview of the Asia
and Oceania Regional Consultative
Processes of Migration 294
Appendix 5: Excerpt from the 2020 Human Rights
Report: Thailand of the US Department of State 306
Appendix 6: Common Health Prevention and
Treatment Interventions 314
References 319
Index 367