Security, Economy and the Modes of Refugees' Livelihood Pursuit: Focus on Karen Refugees in Thailand

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This article is a case study of Burmese Karen refugees residing in refugee camps in Thailand. It examines how the relations between a host government and international relief agencies are shaped by the issues of security and economy and how these issues consequently affect the livelihoods of refugees. The study divides the history of Karen refugees into three periods: 1984 to 1995, 1995 to 2005, and 2005 to 2011. The influences on the government's attitude toward refugees and toward the international relief agencies are identified for each period and the modes of the refugees' livelihood are examined. The study contends that the host government's concerns about security and economy are key factors shaping the government's refugee policies, relations between the government and international relief agencies, and the mode of refugees' pursuit of a livelihood. When security issues are dominant, the attitude of the government toward international relief agencies is negative and consequently the refugees' options are restricted. In contrast, when economic issues are dominant, the government takes a positive stance toward international relief agencies, which play a bigger role, and the welfare of refugees improves.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)461-479
Number of pages19
JournalAsian Studies Review
Issue number3
Publication statusPublished - 2014 Jul

Bibliographical note

Funding Information:
The managing team of the project at the site was composed of one site manager, one logistics officer, five trainers, one administrative staff member, 15 watchers and three caretakers. When the project began, the NGO carefully recruited suitable participants who could potentially develop their capacities by taking part in the project. Through the screening process, 80 refugees from Mae La camp, on a daily wage of 50 baht, were recruited as participants in the first year. The agricultural products and livestock that they produced were sold inside the refugee camp and the revenue was saved in a bank account. The project expanded over time. From 2009, the same project was conducted in Umpiem camp and Mae La Oon camp. The participant numbers and field size also increased. In the case of Mae La camp, in 2010, 160 refugees were employed and the field size increased from 96 rai in 2007 to 196 rai in 2010. In total, the project employed 600 refugees on 270 rai of farms from 2007 to 2010 in the three refugee camps. As of early 2010, the total AIGPP revenue had reached around one million baht.4 It was an impressive and unprecedented outcome in the history of camp refugees. The practical operation of this project was supported by concerned local Thai partners. For instance, Tak Agricultural College extended cooperation to this project. The trainers of the College conducted a training session for three weeks where the refugees learned how to raise fish and frogs and grow vegetables and mushrooms. For the livelihood project, ZOA also established a partnership with the Office of Vocational Education Commission of Thailand’s Ministry of Education.

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Cultural Studies
  • History
  • Sociology and Political Science


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