Myanmar brings home unaccompanied children left in Thailand
Migration between Myanmar and Thailand
After the sudden passing of their grandmother, Maung Maung (age 6) and his sister Ni Ni (age 18 months), found themselves in Thailand alone. Maung Maung and Ni Ni are just two of over 1.5 million children affected by migration between Myanmar and Thailand1.
Maung Maung and his sister, were both born in Thailand where they lived with their mother, her husband, and their grandmother. The family, who are originally from the Bago Region of Myanmar, moved to Thailand before the children were born, in the hope of finding work. Migrant workers from Myanmar can earn up to 3.5 times more in Thailand than in their home countryi. Maung Maung and his sister have lived a transient life, moving back and forwards between Myanmar and Thailand, as many migrant families do.
Migration is common between Myanmar and Thailand, particularly to the border region of Mae Sot, Tak Province. It’s estimated that 2,000 children cross the border between Myawaddy, Myanmar and Mae Sot, Thailand every month2. Now, due to COVID-19, hundreds of migrants are crossing the border back into Myanmar, daily.
Maung Maung’s mother and her husband left while the family were living in Thailand, leaving the children and their grandmother with little reason to stay. The trio made the decision to return to the family’s village near Bago where Maung Maung attended school, and they were surrounded by their extended relatives. But the children missed their mother, so with their grandmother they returned to Mae Sot to find her. Unfortunately, however, their grandmother passed away before they could do so.
Without identification or any known family in Thailand, Maung Maung and Ni Ni spent the next two months in a government shelter in Thailand. Thai officials alerted their counterparts in Myanmar of the children’s situation. Myanmar’s Department of Social Welfare Case Managers worked with a local organisation, Suwannimit Foundation (SNF) and UNICEF, to trace the children’s extended family and arrange for their return to Myanmar. At the end of August 2020 after two long months in the shelter, Maung Maung and Ni Ni were reunited with their great-aunt and uncle and their cousins, in their family’s home village near Bago.
“I’m happy to be back in Myanmar with my aunty but I miss my grandma and our time in Mae Sot” said Maung Maung.
UNICEF is supporting the Government of Myanmar as they work with the Kingdom of Thailand to build systems that protect children who are affected by migration between the two countries. These systems aim to ensure that children like Maung Maung and Ni Ni don’t slip between the cracks.
Maung Maung and Ni Ni, now in their new home, near Bago are settling into a new kind of normal. When school reopens after COVID-19 shutdowns ease, Maung Maung will join his old class, but for now he spends his days playing and helping his aunty. “I love to play with my cousins and the other kids in the village” he says.
Department of Social Welfare Case Managers in the region will provide continued support to the family to ensure they are settling in.
Although the family have their own financial hardships due to COVID-19, they’re thankful to be reunited with their niece and nephew. “My wife feels a great responsibility for the children. Her sister (Maung Maung and Ni Ni’s grandmother) loved and cared for these kids, and we will ensure they’re cared for too”, said the children’s great-uncle.
“Migrant children are children above all. They are vulnerable, and they need protection, love, compassion and care, as well as legal protection and support,” H.E. Kristian Schmidt, Ambassador of the European Union to Myanmar.
UNICEF Myanmar is participating in a multi-country programme co-funded by the European Union (EU) to ensure that children affected by migration are protected and their rights recognized by regional, international, and national bodies.
Helvetas Myanmar, 2015, Internal labour migration study: In the Dry Zone, Shan State, and the South East of Myanmar.
Help Without Frontiers, August 2018, Study on the situation of children on the move in Mae Sot, viewed 11 September 2020 <https://helpwithoutfrontiers.org/our-stories/study-on-the-situation-of-children-on-the-move-in-mae-sot>.