Strengthening cross border collaboration between Myanmar and Thailand for children
Protecting children caught between Myanmar to Thailand
The small town of Kawthaung in Myanmar is just a 10-minute boat ride to the Thai city of Ranong, which sees approximately 500 Myanmar citizens landing on its shores every day. Many do not return.
“We are worried for our children,” said the Myanmar Ministry of Health and Sport representative addressing a delegation of Thai officials in Kawthaung recently for a two-day high-level dialogue on establishing a collaborative cross-border framework for protecting children in the context of migration.
Central and local levels delegates from Thailand visited civil society organizations, medical facilities and a rehabilitation shelter in Kawthaung, in order to better understand the existing system in Myanmar for receiving migrants repatriated from Thailand.
Poverty is a key driver of migration in Myanmar while Thailand offers both economic and social advantages. Thai wages can be three times the rate of earnings in Myanmar and the Thai education system is more developed. The communities living along the extensive Thai-Myanmar border also share many linguistic and cultural similarities.
Myanmar is the largest migration source country in the Greater Mekong Sub region (IOM, 2015), while Thailand is the main destination country and is home to 4.9 million non-Thais, approximately 76 per cent of whom are Myanmar[i].
[i] There is no single estimate on the number of Myanmar migrants in Thailand. IOM Thailand regularly collects and compiles the number of migrants from Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar undergoing a number of registration processes, and estimate that there are about four million migrants from these countries currently residing in Thailand. Of registered migrants in Thailand, 76 per cent are from Myanmar.
An estimated 200,000 to 400,000 Myanmar children live in Thailand and 1.5 million Myanmar children are affected by migration between the two countries (IOM 2015) (UNICEF, IOM, n.d.).
Children are particularly vulnerable to the risks associated with migration, including trafficking, forced labour, exploitation, family separation, health issues and recruitment into armed groups.
UNICEF teams in Myanmar and Thailand have been supporting their respective counterpart governments, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement (MSWRR) in Myanmar and the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security in Thailand, under the EU-funded programme, ‘Protecting children affected by migration in Southeast, South and Central Asia’.
Prior to this December meeting in Kawthaung, the first high-level dialogue was hosted by the Ministry of Social Development and Human Security in Mae Sot, Thailand, in July 2019. Through these dialogues, the two ministries aim to develop a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) for strengthening the protection of children in the context of migration. The MoU establishes functioning cross-border child protection mechanisms and frameworks, including case management standard operating procedures. Issues such as birth registration, immigration detention, preventive and protective measures in the best interests of the child and access to basic services are also being discussed.
As the Director General of the MSWRR San San Aye noted, the burden is not all on Thailand; Myanmar wants to collaborate with Thailand towards a stronger system to protect its children.
The issue of trafficking has been on the agendas of the Government of Myanmar and its neighbours for decades, but protecting cross-border migrant children from Myanmar has been largely overlooked. Hence, there is a lack of information and understanding about the lives of these children, the opportunities and risks of cross-border migration and appropriate responses within country and through cross-border collaboration.
UNICEF in Myanmar continues to support the Government of Myanmar’s Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement to ensure that children affected by migration benefit from strengthened inclusive child protection services, alternatives to detention and an enhanced enabling environment.
UNODC, 2017, Trafficking in persons from Cambodia, Lao PDR and Myanmar to Thailand, p.2.
IOM, 2015, 2015 floods, IOM response. Situation Report 21 August,
IOM, 2016, Migrants from Myanmar and risks faced abroad: A desk study. Geneva: IOM, p. 14.
Mekong Migration Network, and Asian Migrant Centre, 2005, Migration needs, issues and responses in the Greater Mekong Subregion: A resource book. Hong Kong: Asian Migrant Centre.
UNICEF, 2015, Meeting the Humanitarian Needs of Children in Myanmar 2015 - Fundraising Concept Note: Protecting Children in Emergencies and in Conflict-Affected Areas or Rakhine, Kachin and Northern Shan States.