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Invited but not (always) willing to go: Refugees in Tham Hin camp (Thailand) as an example of migration theories shortcomings

©2011 Diplomarbeit 117 Seiten


Even in the most basic theories about migration, there is an inherent assumption that people in the ‘Global South’ are eager to move at the first opportunity, and that this decision is foremost a ‘rational choice’ decision, depending in the largest part on economic considerations. This assumption, which applies to economic migrants moving from the periphery to the central developed states, is even more assumed for refugees, considering their often precarious, inhumane living conditions, in crowded camps with little possibilities for any improvements. It seems only natural, therefore, to assume that these groups of the most vulnerable would be eager to move at the first opportunity offered, even at the cost of making large sacrifices in order to become one of the ‘lucky few’ able to move on. In regard to refugee situations, foremost in Africa, this seemed unfortunately to been confirmed in scandals involving UNHCR staff with taking bribes for resettlement placements.
Over the years, we have seen not much of this assumption change, and the picture of ‘Europe as the El Dorado of the welfare state’, beleaguered by the less-fortunate of the developing world’ is ever-dominant - from a European perspective, there is a long list for ‘them’ to come to ‘us’.
Against this hype, however, the reality looks much different. Indeed, only a very small minority of migrants and refugees are actually arriving in ‘the West’, or even trying to get there - the majority of both groups only move to neighboring countries, which are often as poor as their home region. Indeed, only a small proportion of any ‘emigration country’ would see migration to ‘the West’ or ‘the North’ as the best solution to their everyday problems, and this applies as well to the direst situations as we see in many refugee camps. Therefore, even if ‘Fortress Europe’ would open ist gates completely, the fear of an ‘inrush of people’ is unjustified - most people, even in developing countries, are, just as in ‘the North’, simply too very firmly rooted in their own communities.
This paper is the outcome of a survey done by UNHCR in Tham Hin camp, one of the nine Burmese refugee camps in Thailand, which had the aim of creating a clearer picture as to why such a relatively large proportion of eligible refugees didn’t chose to resettle, even when they were presented with this opportunity. More precisely, the survey found that less than half of eligible refugees in Tham Hin […]



Walter, Susanne: Invited but not (always) willing to go: Refugees in Tham Hin camp
(Thailand) as an example of migration theories shortcomings, Hamburg, Diplomica
Verlag GmbH 2013
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Since Ravenstein´s "Laws of Migration", migration research and theories have developed
significantly to look at migration from a variety of angles. My research question centers on
the hypothesis that, despite these developments, social factors are still underrepresented in
much of migration research and mostly assumed to be merely "side-players" in a
community´s or individual´s decision whether to migrate. If they are taken into account at
all, it is primarily in the study of transnational family networks, or integration processes in
the destination country. The here presented case study of Tham Hin, one of the current nine
Burmese refugee camps in Thailand, is an example of the importance of including social
conditions in the home community as well. I discuss various migration models to support my
hypothesis. Further, I outline the context in which the empirical example is situated,
meaning the political situation of refugees in Thailand and their position therein. The plight
of the Hmong refugees in Thailand at the end of the Indochina war is also contrasted with
the current situation of Burmese refugees, situations that resemble each other in some ways
but at the same time differ significantly in others, especially in regard to resettlement.

I am very grateful to my thesis supervisor, Professor Wolfram Schaffar, who helped guide me
through the whole process and to stay focused on my main hypothesis. Thanks also to
Professor Petra Dannecker, who encouraged me from the beginning to focus on this issue of
migration theories.
I am also grateful to the whole team of UNHCR`s field office in Kanchanaburi Thailand, as
well as to UNHCR Bangkok for not only giving permission to use the Tham Hin survey in my
thesis, but also for answering questions that came up during the writing process.

Committee for Coordination of Services to Displaced Persons in Thailand
International Organization for Migration
Overseas Processing Entity
Resettlement Support Center
State Peace and Development Council
State Law and Order Restoration Council
United Nations High Commission for Refugees

Table of Contents
1. Introduction ... 1
2. On the emergence of refugees ... 6
2.1. On resettlement issues ... 12
2.1.1. Regarding US resettlement ... 20
3. Thailand´s first challenge: Indochina refugee influx ... 23
3.1. The case of the Laos Hmong ... 24
4. Refugees´ position in Thailand ... 33
4.1. The Royal Thai Government´s policies ... 33
4.2. An historical overview on Burmese developments ... 37
4.2.1. Camp establishments and developments since the 1990s ... 40
5. Theorizing movements ­ a discussion of migration theories ... 47
5.1. Hypothesis: Social aspects tend to be neglected ... 55
6. Concretizing theory ­ the case of Tham Hin camp ... 56
6.1. Background ­ Tham Hin camp ... 56
6.2. Survey design ... 61
6.2.1. Problems encountered ... 66
6.3. Data analysis ­ methodology ... 68
6.4. Interpretation ... 70
6.4.1. Regarding a) Social ties and obligations ... 71
6.4.2. Regarding b) Coping worries ... 78
6.4.3. Regarding Group c) Contention ... 79
6.4.4. Regarding Group d) Passiveness ... 80
6.4.5. Regarding e) No understanding ... 81
6.5. Conclusion on results ... 82
7. Food for thought: Social dynamics and cohesion ... 84
8. Conclusion ­ lessons learnt (?) ... 91
9. Appendices ... 94

9.1. Appendix I: Worldwide UNHCR Resettlement Submissions vs. Departures 2003-2010 ... 94
9.2. Appendix II: Camp population numbers 2007-2011 ... 95
9.3. Appendix III: UNHCR Resettlement numbers ... 95
9.4. Appendix IV: Questions of Focus Group Discussions ... 96
9.5. Appendix V: Map of Thai refugee camps ... 97
9.6. Appendix VI: Map of Karen settlements ... 98
10. References ... 99
Thesis Summary ... 107
Diplomarbeits-Zusammenfassung ... 108

1. Introduction
Case Study: A 44 year old married woman with six children has not
considered resettlement. She prefers to remain in the camp and see if the
in Myanmar, where her father siblings still live, will improve.
Even in the most basic theories about migration, there is an inherent assumption that
people in the "Global South" are eager to move at the first opportunity, and that this
decision is foremost a "rational choice" decision, depending in the largest part on
economic considerations. This assumption, which applies to economic migrants
moving from the periphery to the central developed states, is even more assumed for
refugees, considering their often precarious, inhumane living conditions, in crowded
camps with little possibilities for any improvements. It seems only natural, therefore,
to assume that these groups of the most vulnerable would be eager to move at the
first opportunity offered, even at the cost of making large sacrifices in order to
become one of the "lucky few" able to move on. In regard to refugee situations,
foremost in Africa, this seemed unfortunately to been confirmed in scandals involving
UNHCR staff with taking bribes for resettlement placements.
Over the years, we have seen not much of this assumption change, and the picture of
"Europe as the El Dorado of the welfare state", beleaguered by the less-fortunate of
the developing world" is ever-dominant ­ from a European perspective, there is a
long list for "them" to come to "us".
Against this hype, however, the reality looks much different. Indeed, only a very small
minority of migrants and refugees are actually arriving in "the West", or even trying
to get there ­ the majority of both groups only move to neighboring countries, which
are often as poor as their home region. Indeed, only a small proportion of any
Smith/UNHCR 2010:1; exemplary case study from Tham Hin survey, see chapter 6.
As allegedly happened in UNHCR Nairobi, Kenya (cf. Frederiksson 2002:3).

"emigration country" would see migration to "the West" or "the North" as the best
solution to their everyday problems, and this applies as well to the direst situations as
we see in many refugee camps. Therefore, even if "Fortress Europe" would open its
gates completely, the fear of an "inrush of people" is unjustified ­ most people, even
in developing countries, are, just as in "the North", simply too very firmly rooted in
their own communities.
This paper is the outcome of a survey done by UNHCR in Tham Hin camp, one of the
nine Burmese refugee camps in Thailand, which had the aim of creating a clearer
picture as to why such a relatively large proportion of eligible refugees didn't chose to
resettle, even when they were presented with this opportunity. More precisely, the
survey found that less than half of eligible refugees in Tham Hin didn't come forward
for resettlement at the start of the US resettlement program in the camp and only
over the next years until the program´s closure in 2009 did this number grow slowly.
This therefore contradicts the general assumptions about refugee communities
stated above.
Consequently, my research evolved from the Tham Hin survey, having been involved
with it during an internship with the UNHCR field office in Kanchanaburi between July
and September 2010. My aim is to contribute to the literature challenging the general
notion that migrants, or refugees, are completely untied individuals, whose only aim
is to escape their situation at the first chance available. Contrarily, I argue that this
picture is incorrect, as it negates the existence of social bonds or other ties that may
influence an individual's choice on whether or not to move. This paper shall add its
part to the discussion on migration theories by stressing the role of social factors in
the process of migration. I hope that this paper and the case study contained within
contributes to challenge the cliché that a "fortress Europe" is necessary and bolsters
the concept that any theory which neglects to look at the social "fabric" inherent in
any community is likely to be ineffective in trying to control, influence or predict
migration movements.
Cf. Hammar 1997:1;21

In order to provide a better picture of resettlement in general and its role in refugee
situations, I will commence chapter two by outlining the situation regarding refugees
in general, including the emergence of refugee movements and their subsequent
position in the international arena. Upon this, the focus will be on resettlement,
followed by an outline of the US` role in resettlement, as the US have always been
one of the biggest players in this matter.
When looking at the Burmese refugee situation today, it is important to remember
the situation of the Hmong refugees in Thailand, following the Indochina war in the
1970s and onwards. In many respects the two communities resemble each other,
however the way the Hmong situation was eventually resolved differs markedly from
what we see today in the context of the Burmese. Therefore in chapter three, I will
outline the process surrounding the resettlement of the last remaining Hmong
refugees who stayed in the Wat Thamkrabok temple compound until the mid 1990s,
until finally being resettled as well. Comparing the eventual resettlement of this last
group of Hmong with the Burmese resettlement situation today is giving us a good
idea about what it depends on whether a resettlement operation is efficient.
Literature in this context centers either on "America´s forgotten allies"
, meaning the
Hmong fighters who aided the US troops in Laos but were subsequently left behind to
fend for themselves under the stringent Prathet Lao government, or it puts the
spotlight on the US "airlifiting" of Hmong fighters, to provide them with a safe haven
in the US. The latter includes extensive literature on various Hmong ethnic
communities in the US and other resettlement countries (surprisingly even in one
small rural community in southern Germany), as to the process of integration and
coping in their new environment.
Little research exists for conditions in the refugee camps themselves along the Thai-
Lao border, and especially in the last remaining "camp" at Wat Thamkrabok. For an
outline on the situation Grigoleit (2006), Fink DeVivo (2005), as well as the Hmong
Resettlement Task Force of Wisconsin (2004 and 2005) provide relevant insights into
developments at the Wat.
Benjamin Zawacki has covered and campaigned for this issue continuously; see e.g.,9171,447253,00.html

In order to understand the context in which the nine camps exist in Thailand, it makes
sense to provide a brief outline of the political situation of refugees in Thailand. As
such, I have outlined the government´s stance and refugees´ position in chapter four.
This is followed by an outline of the developments in Burma that have led to the very
establishments of the camps, going back to the 1980s, since which there have been
considerable changes. Extensive literature exists for both of these areas. For example,
Lang (2002) provides an extensive historical overview of developments in Burma
since British rule, including the military´s strategies that have led to the establishment
of the camps in Thailand. Further, the UNHCR, as one of the main actors in refugee
protection concerns in Thailand, also offers up to date information on relevant issues.
As there are recurrent critiques on Thailand´s migrant workers and refugee policies,
various NGO´s and other organizations publish frequent articles and updates on these
very issues.
Following on this, I will discuss major migration theories and their respective focus
points in chapter five, drawing on authors as Parnreiter (2000), Hammar (1997),
Massey (1993), Sassen (1991) and Castles/Miller (2009), who have all written
extensively on international migration and various aspects thereof. This shall be the
main body of the thesis and it will further underline its core hypothesis through
detailing the neglect of social factors in these popular theories.
Subsequently in chapter six, the empirical example of Tham Hin camp ­ based upon
the survey done in 2010--will be the focus. I will brief the reader on the background
situation of Tham Hin camp, its community composition and management structure,
as well as the actors involved and, of course, the resettlement situation in the camp.
This will be followed by an outline of the survey design and the methodology
developed and used by UNHCR during the survey. The focus of the UNHCR was
rather "technically-oriented", meaning that the intention was to find out reasons for
non-resettlement which could then be used to improve UNHCR´s approach in the
See for example Therese M. Caouette and Mary E. Pack: "Pushing past the definitions: Migration from
Burma to Thailand" (2002),,
and Margaret Green-Rauenhorst/Karen Jacobsen and Sandee Pyne: "Invisible in Thailand.
Documenting the need for international protection for Burmese" (2008),

camp. In order to look at the material from a more sociological angle I have also used
Mayring´s suggestions for encoding the data, as to develop five of what I have called
"reason-types" for non-resettlement. Further knowledge on analyzing interviews and
group discussions were drawn from Mayer (2009) and Gläser/Laudel (2009).
Finally also in chapter 6 the description of results, centering on statements by
participants of the survey, will be discussed in detail. Likewise, I have drawn on a
study of the faculty of sociology of the Ruhr-University Bochum (Germany) in order to
test possible connections in a grid structure consisting of different variables.
Based on the main conclusions of the survey in terms of social factors, chapter seven
will look at the dynamics inherent in a refugee camp environment, as well as the
structure that determines social relations between the various actors involved and
the camp population. Namely, flight itself and the circumstances of living in an ­ often
crowded ­ refugee camp are traumatic experiences that influence the camp
community; further, self-perceptions of refugees themselves may impact on the
decision whether or not to resettle. New hierarchies in a refugee community and the
way individuals place themselves within it are established, which also are likely to
change women´s role in this society and their status of authority.
In finality, chapter eight holds the conclusion of the paper.

2. On the emergence of refugees
,,Mass migrations of peoples have always occurred; however, `refugees` are a creation
of the twentieth century state."
Migration of people is nothing particular to the 20
century, nor is the existence of
refugees per se; however, the emergence of "refugees" on such a large scale as we
see today can be attributed to developments at the end of the Second World War, as
well as the end of the Cold War.
As Anderson (1991) has pointed out with his concept of "imagined communities", the
importance placed on national boundaries, which brought along permanent
passports, identity papers and mapping were the decisive prerequisites that made
the emergence of refugees, as we know them today, only possible. Here, the basic
condition for counting as a refugee is the crossing of a national border, without which
an individual may "only" count as an internally displaced person (IDP).
The end of World War II saw thousands across Europe being persecuted, driven from
their homes and dispersed in the chaos of war. These circumstances conditioned the
establishment of the UNHCR in 1951, which on the onset was thought to be an only
temporary agency.
Essentially, the scale of these displacements, their ever increasing
duration as well as the growing importance of territorial states and nations´
sovereignty were decisive factors in the establishment of the Convention. As the scale
of people fleeing violence and persecution outside of Europe increased as well,
eventually the 1951 definition had to be widened by adding another Protocol in
, making the definition of who counts as a "refugee" applicable to a worldwide
Malkki 1995, cited in Fink DeVivo 2005:5
Kalnin 2010:79
Only quite recently in 2003 was the UNHCR declared to be continuing to exist ,,until the refugee
problem is solved"; previously, its mandate had only been extended on a five-year basis (Goodwin-Gill
2008: n.p.).
After the 1967 amendment, the definition states that "any person who is outside their country of
origin and unable or unwilling to return there or to avail themselves of its protection, on account of a

Up until the mid 1980s the UNHCR system with its definition of who counts as a
refugee deserving international protection worked out quite reasonably; basic
principles regarding human rights and dignities of refugees were respected, and a
certain degree of burden-sharing of the international community was thought to be a
necessary duty. However, as the Cold War came to an end with the fall of the Soviet
Union, the necessity to fund certain "volatile" states was abandoned. As a result of
the omission of financial contributions from "the West" "state implosions"/state
collapses followed, which were subsequently followed by persecutions of certain
groups and many atrocities, producing large flows of refugees moving partly towards
Western Europe. These flows of refugees became increasingly challenging for the
Moreover, a certain degree of "re-thinking" began to emerge: no more "duties", but
more how to avoid these, or at best make them not emerge at all, became the focus
for many states, especially in the Western hemisphere. As Goodwin-Gill has pointed
out: "Duties, once freely assumed, are taken less seriously".
With the abolition of a
clearly divided line between the open market-oriented and the communist camp,
states increasingly focused on themselves instead of the common good of "their"
team, which became evident with less international cooperation in dealing with
emerging refugee crises.
As Lang has pointed out, "[t]he essential condition of becoming a "refugee" emerges
with the "rupture of the minimum relationship of protection, trust and loyalty
between the citizen and the home state" ­ meaning that the relationship between
dutiful citizen and "fatherlike" state as a protector is taken away, leaving the
individual concerned forced to look for sanctuary elsewhere.
well-founded fear of persecution for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular
group, or political opinion" (Goodwin-Gill 2008
#The Convention Refugee Definition, emphasis added
by author).
Fink DeVivo 2005:4
Goodwin-Gill 2001:1
Goodwin-Gill 2001:14
Lang 2002:13ff

Such a definition concentrates on the relationship between the state and its citizen;
however, to encompass the day-to-day activities of involved organizations and actors,
and to define what concrete conditions make an individual a refugee, a more practical
definition had to be drawn up. Subsequently, as for the above mentioned 1951
Geneva definition, an essential aspect of its formulation was to agree on a common
definition on who would be regarded by all state parties involved as a "refugee"
deserving international protection. As the convention was done under the
background of the Second World War, its focus was on European persons fleeing
fighting and acts of violence in connection to events occurring prior to January 1
1951. However, as a matter of fact this approach proved to be too inadequate in the
years to come and had therefore to be expanded in 1967 to include all persons
fleeing fighting, irrespective of origin and of a time deadline.
Subsequently, this widened definition still stands until today as the most widely
spread definition on which UNHCR refugee status determination procedures are
based, as well as most countries´ criteria who counts as a "refugee".
there is quite extensive discussion about the limitations of this definition, particularly
the importance of having a "well-founded fear of persecution" is very often argued to
be too subjective: especially making the decision of awarding refugee status to an
individual dependent on something as subjective as "fear" has always draws immense
criticism. Suddenly this very subjective emotion has to be judged objectively by law
authorities, judges and other decision makers who are at times not accustomed to
refugee law or know little about an individual´s cultural background or conditions in
the home country that may have led to the departure. Additionally, the necessity for
adequate interpreters is not always acknowledged, which understandably makes
judging this "well-founded fear of prosecution" too often bordering on randomness
and the good- or badwill of the authorities in charge. Moreover, the 1951 definition
had been drawn up on the basis that individuals who flee from political persecution
should be granted protection; however, even though political activism is still often
the main reason for persecution and subsequent flight, a rather new development of
our time is that today´s refugees often seek protection because of attacks by
Fink DeVivo 2005:4ff.

government or non-governmental actors, irrespective of any engagement in active
political opposition ­ a situation that also fits for the case of a large part of Burmese
refugees. Individuals or groups are targeted as "mere victims", not necessarily on the
basis of social, cultural or other differences but nevertheless in a way that leaves no
other choice for survival other than to leave one´s homeland.
Especially this third
category of randomly targeted individuals is an inherent feature of many refugee
situations of today, especially seen in Africa or South America.
Therefore, the continuing wars and war-like situations in Africa and Latin-America,
which frequently witness large numbers of people fleeing fighting and grave human
rights violations, finally called for a more regionally adequate version of the original
definition. Subsequently in 1969 and 1984 respectively the OAU Refugee Convention
as well as the Cartagena Declaration were created, trying to adapt the original
definition to make it more applicable in a distinct African or Latin American context.
Instead of emphasizing the need of a certain "deliberateness" of targeting an
individual, these two definitions rather stress the persecution of more or less random
groups of people who are forced to flee from either an outside aggressor, occupation,
foreign domination or "events that seriously disturb public order". In this way, the
special situations in Africa and Latin America, which often include hard to identify
warring factions that don't necessarily target only one specific group, have been
However, even though discussions surrounding the definition of who counts as a
refugee are frequently debated, one core principle is inherent in all definitions and
can be seen as the "basic" principle of refugee protection: Namely the provision of
non-refoulement (enshrined also in the 1951 Geneva Convention). Essentially, this
refers to the principle that no individual should be sent back to his or her country of
origin if there is a fear that this might endanger his or her life or well-being (e.g. in the
case of the threat of torture).
Lang 2002:13ff
Schreier 2008:55;57; Goodwin-Gill 2008
Exact wording acc. to the Geneva Convention (Article 33): ,,No Contracting State shall expel or return
(`refouler') a refugee in any manner whatsoever to the frontiers of territories where his life or freedom

This key principle of non-refoulement was also included in other international
treaties, such as the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR), and
the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), as well as of course the above
mentioned African and Latin American documents regarding refugees. Thus, even if
countries such as Thailand haven't signed the Geneva Convention, they are
nevertheless expected by customary international law to abide by this principle.
Considering the almost regular deportations of Burmese nationals from Thailand,
there is frequent critique regarding Thailand´s breach of this basic provision of
customary law.
However, as concerning the definition of "refugees", even the principle of non-
refoulement is frequently subject of discussion. Mainly, this discussion has been
introduced by states that are concerned about subversion of their national
sovereignty, as well as if there is a threat to national security. It is also unclear if the
principle of non-refoulement applies equally to persons trying to enter a country as
those being deported.
As is evidence by the breakings of this principle of non-refoulement by various states,
refugee protection was from the beginning and still is today subordinate to state
sovereignty ­ to provide refugee protection has been agreed upon on the condition
that the "final word" still belongs to the respective state, rendering refugee
protection and the Geneva Convention essentially open to the same "toothless"
criticism as, for example, the principle of Human Right law.
Moreover, even though
UNHCR is seen as non-political, in reality it has proven itself to be highly political:
namely, there can be no UNHCR intervention for humanitarian or other assistance if
the government concerned rejects such assistance. Further, as the agency´s efforts
would be impossible without due financial contributions by member states, this has
would be threatened on account of his race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social
group or political opinion."(Rodger 2002:II B)
Rodger 2002: II B
Rodger 2002: II B

created high dependency on state policies and allows the UNHCR to be shaped to a
large degree by these forces.
At the beginning of 2009 there were approx. 36 Million persons of concern to UNHCR
, this being the highest figure since the agency´s inception. However, according to the
aforementioned definition, "persons of concern" does not necessarily only mean
"refugees" but also includes stateless persons, refugees returning home and
internally displaced persons (IDPs). The number of refugees benefiting from UNHCR
assistance in 2009 stood at around 10,4 Million persons. However, as with all official
numbers, UNHCR figures have to be taken with care: Jeff Crisp points out that,
"UNHCR statistics can be the result of negotiation between the Office and the host
government, and typically include only those refugees under the mandate of
UNHCR". This means that in cases where e.g. the host state hinders more persons
from entering designated camps (managed by UNHCR), this of course decreases the
number of persons under the UN mandate. However at the same time, refugee
numbers are distorted as official figures only include these persons under UNHCR-
protection in these camps, neglecting those that were hindered from entering the
camps. . Further, as can be seen in the case of Burmese in Thailand, the divide
between economic migrants and refugees is quite often blurred: many potential
refugees live hidden in urban areas, rather than staying in the camps required by
many host governments, as e.g. in Thailand. Such policies, therefore, do have an
impact on UNHCR numbers
Despite the sometimes prevailing assumption about two thirds of all refugees
worldwide are living in developing countries, mostly fleeing only to an imminent
neighborhood country or to a country at best within their own continent.
Loescher 2001:28
Loescher et al 2008:22f
See also: Crisp, Jeff 1999: "`Who has counted the Refugees?`: UNHCR and the Politics of Numbers",
New Issue in Refugee Research, Working Paper No. 12, Geneva: UNHCR, June 1999.
This shows again UNHCR´s status of being to a high degree a "playball" subject to government
intentions and good-will.
UNHCR 2009c:17f

Within these environments of refuge, many end up living in crowded camps under
rather inhumane conditions; not seldom do they get stuck in limbo. Subsequently,
there has been a great demand for a solution, especially with protracted refugee
situations which have seen generations grow up in camp environments.
For such long-standing situations such as this there are generally three options
available, which are known as "durable solutions" by UNHCR standards. Primarily,
whenever possible and deemed safe, voluntary repatriation to the home country is
seen as the most desirable solution for all stakeholders. Secondly, if the opportunity
of local integration is given (meaning permitted on the host governments´ side), this
could be an option for at least part of the refugee community. However, these
options are not always available, which often makes the third solution, resettlement
to a third country, the most attractive and the most realistic solution.
2.1. On resettlement issues
Myth: Most refugees want to be resettled. Truth: Most refugees want to go
Resettlement is for refugees who have no other solution.
"Resettlement", by definition, refers to "[T]he transfer of refugees and stateless
people from the country in which they have sought refuge to another state that has
agreed to admit them as refugees and/or to grant permanent settlement there."
On a more operational level this means several "practical" stages, compromised of
case identification, needs assessment, identity validation, eligibility determination
and processing, transportation and passage, and then eventual integration into the
receiving community, with special emphasis being placed on resettlement as an
orderly process, against other forms of migration as being more "unpredictable", or
UNHCR 2010d:4
UNHCR 2009a:1

For all the above steps, various actors are involved, being responsible for
respective parts of the whole complicated process of transferring an individual from
country A to country B. As has been pointed out, under their refugee protection
mandate, UNHCR is highly involved in this process and cooperates at almost every
stage with various NGOs and governmental stakeholders. Another main actor without
most resettlement operations would be unthinkable is the IOM (International
Organization for Migration), which, depending on the respective host country,
manages pre-departure cultural orientation programs and very essentially the
logistics of movements. Apart from these two rather big players, the IOM and the
UNHCR, several other NGOs are involved in the process.
Throughout the 1980s actual resettlement numbers were much higher than what we
see today. The foremost reason for this was that the war in Indochina produced
massive flows of refugees pouring into neighboring countries, amongst those
Thailand, which were quite generously resettled to Western third countries.
Vietnamese refugees alone numbered approx. 700,000, who were for the largest part
eventually resettled overseas. The number of actually resettled persons has gone
down since then, with annual numbers standing at less than 80,000 annually for all
resettlement-receiving countries combined. However, figures for refugees in need of
resettlement stay high and have even risen during the previous years: UNHCR
estimates that approx. 780,000
refugees will be in need of resettlement over the
next 3 to 5 years, a number which nevertheless only accounts for less than 10% of all
refugees worldwide. For 2011 alone, needed placements have been estimated to be
approx. 172,000 ­ basically, for every 100 refugees in need of resettlement, merely
10 get resettled each year.
At the Annual Tripartite Consultation on Resettlement in
July 2011, the head of UNHCR´s resettlement division Wei-Meng Lim-Kabaa warned
that under current conditions, about 100,000 refugees in need of resettlement will be
left without a solution in 2011.
Fredriksson 2002:28f
This number is based on multiple-year projections where resettlement is envisioned for the next
coming years.
UNHCR 2009a:4f;UNHCR 2010c:1; ECRE Newsletter July 8
ECRE Newsletter July 8

Appendix I shows UNHCR submission numbers and subsequent acceptance numbers;
as can be seen from the divergence, only about half, if not less, of all proposed cases
for resettlement actually get resettled in the end, suggesting that even though states
might mostly adhere to UNHCR recommendations regarding who they should focus
on taking in, final admission numbers are nevertheless quite significantly low.
Until today, the US is the largest refugee receiver. Nevertheless, how dire the
resettlement placement situation is at present can be seen from a US example: In
2008 the ceiling of US resettlement admissions has been put at 80,000 placements ­
UNHCR figures put places actually available for UNHCR referred resettlement to the
US at 56,750; however, eventually resettled refugees to the US in 2008 have only
been 48,828 persons.
This demonstrates that the national maximum admittance
number for resettlement is not achieved, and that also not all refugees that the
UNHCR suggests for resettlement are taken in eventually.
Again in 2009, out of an expected arrival of 75,000 according to a US government
report, actual arrivals have been 62,011 persons, according to UNHCR numbers.
What is striking about the above figures is that actual UNHCR submissions for persons
in need of resettlement in the US have been 94,590 and 102,586 persons for 2008
and 2009 respectively.
While naturally there ought to be some divergence between
submissions and consequent acceptance numbers, the gap between these two
figures seems to be widening over the last couple of years.
Overall, refugee submission rates have been generally increasing in the new
millennium, with an all-times high in 2009 (128,000 persons submitted, up from
121,000 in 2008 and decreasing slightly to 108,082 in 2010), which is mostly due to
improved UNHCR and NGO staff competencies in their identification of vulnerable
persons of concern and in the better communications between field and head
UNHCR 2009a:4f.; UNHCR 2010c:55
UNHCR 2010c:44; US Dpt. of State, US Dpt. of Homeland Security and Dpt. of Health and Human
Services Report 2008:5
UNHCR 2009b:3;UNHCR 2010c:45
See Appendix I for overview of submission/departure rates 2004-2010.

. However, as has been noted already, state admissions do not keep step
with the submission rate, and this remains to be the major problem. Due to this fact,
the UNHCR had announced an increase of 10% in receiving states´ resettlement
numbers as one of its major focus points for the period 2010-2011.
Another point of concern which has been raised in recent times by UNHCR relates to
the time of processing resettlement cases: the average duration of a "normal" case
from submission by UNHCR to the receiving state concerned until the actual
departure of the individual or the family should take approx. 12 months; however, in
so called emergency cases, usually when the refugee concerned is in bad health or
other dangerous circumstances, the processing time ought to be cut if possible to
only several days until departure. This has proven not to be the case most of the time,
with delays for screening, health and security checks etc. holding up the process,
resulting in procedures taking an average about five months/140 days from
submission to departure. This situation has been exacerbated by the 9/11 attacks in
2001, which created an additional increase in processing time due to even more
rigorous security screenings. Also, due to increasingly strict criteria and screening
procedures for such urgent cases, the total of 700 slots available in 2009 for such
cases could not be utilized completely. For example, out of 1,022 persons submitted
by UNHCR in 2009, only 653 persons eventually departed to a third country.
Major departure countries (countries of first asylum from which refugees are
resettling), as well as major countries of origin (refugees` home countries) haven´t
changed much in the last couple of years; Nepal still ranks first regarding numbers of
individuals submitted for resettlement, although numbers for Thailand fell out of the
top three of departure countries, being replaced by Malaysia in 2010 (however,
country of origin is still the same, namely Burma). Therefore, regarding nationalities
affected, there haven't been any changes in recent years, with Iraqi refugees being
UNHCR 2010d:56;UNHCR Fact Sheet 2011:1
UNHCR 2009b:3f
UNHCR 2009a:8;UNHCR 2010d:12

the most prominent population of refugees worldwide, followed by Burmese and
Bhutanese refugees.
Not every country which might accept asylum seekers on their "doorstep" has an
official resettlement program in place; up through the current day, the United States
still stands at the largest taker with resettlement acceptance numbers. Other
prominent resettlement countries have included Canada, the northern European
countries, as well as Australia and New Zealand. However, recent years have seen
countries such as Argentina, Brazil and Chile, amongst others, as well as the UK and
France build up or reinstall their resettlement programs. Germany has also enacted
an ad hoc resettlement program since 2009.
Relevant in the Asian context is the
pilot project which Japan started in 2010, under which for three years 30 Burmese
from one of the Thai camps will annually be resettled to Japan.
However, connected to the problem of resettlement places available, European
countries´ share up to today has been relatively minor, providing for only 13% in 2009
of overall places needed, an increase from merely 9% in 2007. Even though joining
only in 2009, Germany had the highest number of acceptances as of 2009 (2,064
persons), thanks to special ad hoc admissions for mostly Iraqi refugees.
Even though resettlement itself might be seen as a relatively "easy" means of
relieving the plight of refugees worldwide, the process of moving individuals or
families from place A to B must be understood as a process that not only includes
refugees themselves and the receiving country, but also must include the host
government´s cooperation and support as well, making the whole procedure of
resettling refugees a complex process where dialogue, coordination and mutual
understanding is crucial in achieving durable outcomes.
In fact, the three nationalities compromise about ¾ of all worldwide UNHCR refugee submissions
(UNHCR 2010d:46).
UNHCR online, 05.07. 2010. Resettlement countries as of 2011 compromise 24 states (UNHCR
; Japan Today, 10.05.2011.
UNHCR 2010d:8;10;46

Further, for refugees themselves there exists neither a ,,right to resettlement", nor
any obligation on receiving state´s side to accept any number of refugees or other
persons in need (e.g. stateless persons). Admission criteria, as well as numbers, are at
the sole discretion of the receiving state and its national resettlement policies.
However, most major receiving countries orient their policies towards
recommendations set by UNHCR; thus, receiving governments usually work together
on a regular basis with UNHCR and generally accept refugees deemed eligible by
UNHCR screening processes.
This sole discretion of state´s decision on resettlement slots available proves to be
one of the major "dilemmas" regarding refugee resettlement: On the one hand
stands UNHCR´s core mandate and responsibility to provide durable solutions and
protection for refugees and on the other hand there is a state´s desire to manage
migration effectively and if possible, only admit skilled migrants and family
Therefore, as states generally try to regulate and control migration
coming towards them, there is a well-founded fear that providing (orderly)
resettlement places might be increasingly seen as a "quid pro quo" solution for
admitting refugees, rather than having states deal with the unpredictability of arriving
asylum-seekers at one´s doorstep. However, even if resettlement might be a viable
solution for (smaller) states that would like to participate in burden-sharing, this
shouldn't become a substitution for scaling down the possibility of seeking asylum
individually. Both are two parts of the umbrella of refugee protection: where
resettlement is dependent on the "vagueness" of state policy, asylum should
continue to be a right under international human rights law and be dependent only
on Convention criteria.
As stated previously, the actual number of approx. refugees worldwide who might be
involved in such a "managed migration" process stands at approx. 10% of all refugees
worldwide- much less than one might expect; therefore, resettlement is hardly a "one
fits all" solution and rather tends to play a minor role in finding solutions for refugees.
Fredriksson 2002:28f


ISBN (eBook)
1015 KB
Institution / Hochschule
Universität Wien – Geistes- und Kulturwissenschaftliche Fakultät, Internationale Entwicklung
2014 (April)
flüchtlinge migration resettlement weiterwanderung thailand burma myanmar

Titel: Invited but not (always) willing to go: Refugees in Tham Hin camp (Thailand) as an example of migration theories shortcomings
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