ABSTRACT

A common picture of urban refugees is that of people living in squalid slums in major cities in the developing world. However, many urban refugees live in small towns in regional and rural areas. In this chapter we examine the circumstances of a large group of unregistered refugees from Burma living in regional townships and villages along the Thai–Burma border. The different experiences of refugees from the Karen, Karenni and Shan ethnic groups from Burma will be explored. The majority of Karen and Karenni refugees live in camps designated as ‘camps for people fleeing from conflict situations’; however, some live outside of the camps as unregistered refugees. The Shan refugees are in a very different position. Not recognized by Thailand as fleeing from conflict, they are mainly classified as illegal immigrants. It is estimated that up to two million Shan refugees are living on the Thai–Burma border. The ambiguities in the ways the different groups are treated derive from the politics of host governments, the relationship between the country from which the refugees are fleeing and the international community, their level of access to UNHCR, and their geographic location. They render large populations of refugees invisible, which in turn prevents them from accessing international protection.1