Thailand: Boarding Houses for Unaccompanied Refugee Children
Refugee children vulnerable and alone
Millions of innocent people have been forced to flee their villages in Burma and seek refuge in neighbouring countries. The majority cross the border illegally, and become illegal migrants in Thailand, India, and Malaysia.
Some 145,000 refugees; the majority from Burma’s war-torn Karen state, live in camps along Thailand’s border with Burma. This is a long-standing problem; Burmese refugees have fled to Thailand for more than two decades.
Thailand has not signed the 1951 Convention on Refugees or its 1967 Protocol, meaning that refugees from Burma have limited legal protection and few recognised rights.
Children arrive unaccompanied, having fled across the border for safety, as well as the chance of an education and a life. Without parents or carers though, children are at huge risk of exploitation, abuse and trafficking.
Each year thousands of young girls are recruited from rural Burmese villages to work in the sex industry in Thailand. It is estimated that a large proportion of sex workers in Thailand’s brothels are from Burma and that 60% are under 18 years of age. Held for years in debt bondage in illegal Thai brothels, they suffer extreme abuse by pimps, clients, and the police.
The trafficking of Burmese girls has soared in recent years as a direct result of political repression in Burma. Human rights abuses, war and ethnic discrimination has displaced hundreds of thousands of families, leaving them with no means of livelihood. An offer of employment in Thailand is a rare chance for many families to escape extreme poverty.
What we did to help:
To protect and care for these children without parental care we have helped to set up a number of boarding houses which are based in the Umpiem and Mae Ra Moe refugee camps in Thailand.For thousands of young Burmese, these boarding houses offer a chance of a new life. Orphaned, forced to flee without parents, or sent by families across into Thailand for an otherwise-impossible education, the boarding houses offer a 'home away from home'.
These safe houses provide shelter, food, trauma counseling, healthcare and other services for abandoned or solitary Burmese children. They also protect them from sweat-shop employment, sex trafficking, and the drug trade. From these safe bases 285 children can attend migrant schools and receive the care and support they need.
Working with our partners we have helped set a basic standard of care for all the children living in boarding houses in northern Thailand’s refugee camps. We have outlined a set of minimum standards of care that should be upheld for the children. The document was drafted together with the children and young people from within the boarding houses, alongside carers and community leaders form the refugee camps.
The boarding houses are still being ran by the Karen Women's Organisation who are looking for ongoing funding.