Migrant Labor Activists Plan for the 2020 Election in Myanmar

Over two million Burmese migrants in Thailand were left out of Myanmar’s 2015 election. Will it happen again in 2020 ?

The Union Election Commission of Myanmar reported turnout at 69 percent for the historic 2015 elections within the country. Outside of the country, the story was very different. Fewer than 20,000 external voters engaged their political right at the ballot box abroad. This amounted to less than one-tenth of 1 percent of the over four million people who compose the Burmese diaspora.

“We labor migrants and refugees were simply considered not important enough by the previous Burmese government to be involved in the elections last year,” says a Bangkok-based migrant and labor rights activist from Myanmar, who wishes to stay anonymous due to her illegal status in Thailand.

Burmese migrant activists have begun meeting to plan for the next election four years away. They want a much higher rate of turnout for absentee voters for the next election.

A recent example of this foresight was an open letter from a network of migrant associations operating in Bangkok to Aung San Suu Kyi, state counselor of Myanmar. The open letter was meant to coincide with her official June 2016 visit to Thailand. Though the majority of recommendations were about more immediate concerns of migrant labor rights for Burmese citizens who make the trek to Thailand for work, the letter also included important recommendations for an extension of absentee suffrage. Migrant associations specifically requested guarantees for inclusion in future national elections.

Suu Kyi did not publicly address the absentee suffrage challenge during her visit like she did other migrant labor problems. Yet the fact that politically active Burmese in Thailand included this in their letter already demonstrates their concern with “not losing this opportunity again” for potential external votes to be counted in the next general election.

Lowering Costs for Migrants

In terms of Myanmar’s… [click here to continue to read full text]

*Originally published in The Diplomat by T. F. Rhoden; image-photo credit for this post via Channel NewsAsia. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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Who Would Voters with No Votes Vote For?

An exercise in extending absentee suffrage for Myanmar’s citizens abroad.

The 2015 election in Myanmar marked a major milestone in the country’s political transition and return to democracy. But some people were left out of the historic vote.

The reasons to not allow an individual to vote are as much a part of the history of all our great liberal democracies as they are a continual reminder to remain vigilant for those of us who may have lost that right somehow. In the past, some of us did not own property, were not the right kind of ‘white’ (Northern European), were not men, a tad too tanned or rather much too noir, or simply too young to vote — yet not too young to make the ultimate sacrifice in “foreign war.”

If the above reflects too much of the Western experience, then one could also include reasons like class, religion or lack of, language or dialect, caste, cult, ideology, marriage status, education level, sexual preference, and on and on.

Think of some ridiculous social cleavage, some cultural hang-up of yesteryear, and the astute comparative political scientist will ultimately be able to pluck another tawdry example from an even more exotic, backward republic. Give the polity an election and it will collectively vomit out some new excuse for democratic exclusion come election day.

But how does one analyse the individual who once had a political right and has now lost it? How about the individual who lost the right to vote for no reason other than not being at the right place at the right time on election day? A loss on grounds of a technicality—of logistics?

In Myanmar’s 2015 election, they had a constitutional mechanism ready to thwart such a possibility. In the 2010 House of Representatives Election Law, a provision exists in Chapter IX, section 45 to 47, which allows for an “advance ballot.” This is meant to assist those citizens who are bedridden, who may be out of the township on business, or who may be even so far away as to be beyond the territorial sovereignty of the state. Though what is legislated through Parliament and what is effected via on-the-ground operations, alas, proved to be very different.

Of those who were registered… [click here to continue to read full text]

*Originally published in New Mandala by T. F. Rhoden; image-photo credit for this post via ITV. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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L’histoire des Migrations Birmanes en Thaïlande Contredit l’Analyse Actuelle

Le discours prépondérant sur la migration des quelque trois millions de personnes originaires du Myanmar vivant actuellement en Thaïlande est essentiellement binaire. On considère généralement qu’ils sont soit des manœuvres, soit des réfugiés. En termes de causalité, la première catégorie serait incitée à se déplacer « de son plein gré » pour des raisons économiques tandis que la seconde serait « contrainte » pour des motifs politiques.

Une vision simpliste

Cela peut sembler être une rapide simplification des recherches des autres mais plus on se penche attentivement sur les écrits, plus cette vision binaire réfugié vs manœuvre constitue le cadre théorique dans au moins trois disciplines : les politiques migratoires contemporaines, la législation internationale sur les réfugiés et travail, ainsi que les études des organisations non gouvernementale. Je crains que cela ne soit plus une figure rhétorique qu’un élément étayé par des preuves en provenance du terrain.

L’année dernière, Adam Saltsman a expliqué dans The Diplomat que trop de différenciation entre les réfugiés et les manœuvres pourrait en fait nuire à ceux auxquels les analystes et chercheurs souhaitent venir en aide, alors que tant de ceux qui furent autrefois des « réfugiés » sont déjà entrés dans le réservoir de main-d’œuvre en Thaïlande. Il fait valoir que « le plaidoyer pour les réfugiés doit être relié à la défense des intérêts des migrants et du droit du travail » afin d’aboutir à des « solutions durables »… [click here to continue to read full text]

*Originally published in Alter Asia by T. F. Rhoden; translated by Édith Disdet; all other written and photo credits appear on Alter Asia. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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Millennia-Long Histories and Burmese Migrations into Thailand

For the approximately three million people from Myanmar in Thailand now, the main narrative on migration is essentially binary. The argument generally goes that one is either a labourer or one is a refugee. In terms of causation, the former is enticed to move for “voluntary” reasons of economic want, while the latter is propelled for “forced” reasons of political exigency.

This is, perhaps, something of a simplification of the research of others, but the deeper one delves into the literature of at least three specific areas or disciplines of study—contemporary migration policy analysis, international refugee and labour law, and any humanitarian or NGO-type study—the more one realises that this refugee-vs-labourer binary is the essential theoretical framework for analysis. I worry that this is more of a trope than something backed by on-the-ground evidence.

Last year Adam Saltsman made an argument in The Diplomat that too much of a differentiation between refugees and labourers may actually do harm to those who analysts and scholars may wish to help, now that so many of the once “refugees” have already entered the labour pool in Thailand. He argues that “advocacy for refugees must be linked with advocacy for migrants and for labour rights” in order to come to any “durable solutions.”

My own forays into the study of the Burmese in Thailand have also generated qualitative as well as quantitative evidence to argue against this simple binary. This needs to be analysed more fully…[click here to continue to read full text]

*Originally published in New Mandala by T. F. Rhoden; all other written and photo credits appear on New Mandala. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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Dataset of Burmese Migration-Concept Crossover in Thailand

Abstract

Purpose of survey: Original dataset of quantitative analysis section of dissertation research for PhD in political science from Northern Illinois University. Estimated graduation date for fall 2016. Others are encouraged to use this dataset for their own research (see license below).

Description

Title: Dataset of Burmese Migration-Concept Crossover in Thailand
Researcher/Author: T. F. Rhoden
Published: 25-Nov-15
Survey period: 20-Jun-15 to 19-Oct-15

Survey location: Thai side of Thailand-Myanmar border (see dataset for specific locations).
Total surveys given out: 4,000
Total surveys answered: 3,784
Response rate: 96.85% (note that response rate will vary per individual question/data point; see dataset).
Original population: 2,629,242 (estimated number of total migrants from Myanmar in Thailand from pg. 9 of Rhoden, T. F., and Danny Unger. 2015. “No Burmese Returning: Economics across Myanmar-Thailand Border.” International Journal of East Asian Studies 19(2): 51-70. http://tinyurl.com/ow4cll7.)

Data points/observations: 50 per respondent (see codesheet).
Survey demographics: See dataset.
Languages: Survey was printed in Burmese and English. Any responses in Burmese were translated into English for ease of use here. See dataset for challenges/issues of some translations. Note that some respondents answered in Karen, which were also translated into English here.
Contact info: tfrhoden [at] niu [dot] edu

License: This dataset is under creative commons license. It is free to use in any way, including, but not limited to, academic research, governmental- and nongovernmental-organization research, journalism, and/or others. Commercial use is prohibited.

Acknowledgements

Part of this survey timeframe overlaps with financial assistance from a Boren Fellowship to learn the Sgaw dialect of the Karen language(s) in Northern Thailand. For volunteer assistance in data collection outside of the refugee camps, author would like to thank Khin Soe Mon, education program manager at Help Without Frontiers (HWF) Thailand, Naing Naing Htun and the team at Burma Migrant Teachers Association (BMTA), along with a handfull of other local Burmese- and Karen-speaking volunteers who wish to stay anonymous. For assistance in data collection inside of the refugee camps, author would like to thank Maria Clara Naranjo, instructor with Karen Refugee Committee Education Entity (KRCEE), and other research assistants who wish to keep their identity anonymous. Author would also like to thank Kyaw (David) Pyae Sone of HWF for helping with translating the Internal Review Board (IRB) forms into Burmese and Ma (Zulu) Khin with the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners Burma (AAPPB) with help in translating the questions on the survey from English to Burmese. Any mistakes are the author’s own.

Suggested Citation

Rhoden, T. F. 2015. “Dataset of Burmese Migration-Concept Crossover in Thailand.” ResearchGate (November 24), doi.10.13140/RG.2.1.3285.6409.

*Originally published on Research Gate by T. F. Rhoden; image credit for post via World Education. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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No Burmese Returning: Economics Across Myanmar-Thailand Border

Abstract

As Myanmar’s national politics change from a military authoritarian regime toward civilian rule, this paper seeks to understand whether Burmese emigrants abroad are starting to return home. By placing the specific case study of net migration flows across the Myanmar-Thailand land border into a larger study of all of net migration flows across all other land borders around the globe, a comparison can be made as to the direction and the amount of these net migration flows. We argue that, regardless of the political situation, when surveying the top large-scale net migration flows of over 350,000 people, fairly simple economic indicators help us to predict that, ceteris paribus, the direction of any net migration flow will move from poorer to wealthier country. Material differences in wealth, however, do not help to predict the amount of that net migration flow. We conclude that because of prevailing magnitudes of material difference between Myanmar and Thailand, we see nothing that suggests that Burmese migrants have started to return home in any large numbers.

Keywords: Myanmar-Thailand border, Burmese migration, Myanmar, land border, migration, Burmese economy, Thai economy.

Introduction & Background

For the Myanmar-Thailand border, the direction of net migration flows has been going one way since at least the 1980s; whether these migrants have been economic immigrants or political refugees, year after year, more Burmese have been living in Thailand then Thais living in Myanmar. Yet, if we follow the news in Southeast Asia today, a new trend appears to be surfacing whereby everyone these days seems to be going to Myanmar. Over the past year, current and former heads of government such as Barak Obama, Tony Blair, Manmohan Singh, Shinzo Abe, and David Cameron, as well as European Commission President José Barroso have visited. In 2013, Myanmar had its first high-profile tech company visit by Executive Chairman Eric Schmidt of Google Inc. The nonprofit Institute of International Education facilitated nine American universities recently in sending representatives to Myanmar to inquire upon exchange opportunities for faculty and students in the future. Multilateral organizations and foreign government officials reestablishing diplomatic relations, also have been streaming into Myanmar. Accordingly, international weekly seat capacity for all airlines flying into Myanmar has doubled from around 40,000 a week in August 2012 to over 80,000 a week by January 2013 to meet the new demand. All this activity represents a dramatic reversal from years past.

For decades, the Burmese government made it fairly difficult for foreigners to travel to, or do business in, Myanmar. And after the military regime failed to respect the outcome of elections in 1991, many foreigners eschewed Myanmar altogether. Traveling there risked the wrath of critics of the country’s ruling generals, particularly by those activists working for a regime change. These critics urged maximum isolation of the regime as a means of putting pressure on the generals to release political prisoners, negotiate with ethnic minorities, and hold free and fair elections. However, the regime launched radical changes in 2003 with its “road map to democracy”. In consequence, as the regime has delivered on allowing national elections in the last few years, outsiders are scrambling to get into Myanmar. If foreigners are now flocking to get into Myanmar, what about the Burmese? Until very recently, Myanmar was not only a country many outsiders avoided, but one in which insiders were spilling out in great numbers and in particular into Thailand. Now that so many foreigners want to get into Burma, will this mean that the Burmese will feel less of an urgent need to get out? Could the direction of net migration across the Myanmar-Thailand border have reversed, or at the very least slowed down?

Myanmar remains an extremely poor country with few economic opportunities for local employment. For political reasons, but economic ones as well, the Burmese… [click here to continue to read full text]

*Originally published in International Journal of East Asian Students of Thammasat University, Thailand, by T. F. Rhoden and D. Unger; photo credit goes to Rohan Radheya via The Diplomat. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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Burmese Refugees: Letters from the Thai-Burma Border

New publication by Rhoden brothers!

DL Press presents the edited collection Burmese Refugees: Letters from the Thai-Burma Border. Book is available on Kindle, from normal book distributors, and online at Amazon.

Description

The misrule of the Burmese military junta continues to be the main catalyst of refugees in Southeast Asia today. In this collection of letters, learn about the true stories of people who have fled from that regime. All of the accounts are written by the refugees themselves and explain how they became asylum seekers, what life is like in the camps, and what they envision for their future. These stories document persons from the 8888 generation, the 2007 Saffron Revolution, and various ethnic struggles. This book contains the narratives of thirty diverse individuals – all of them united by the simple desire to have a more representative government in their homeland.

Paperback: 112 pages
Publisher: Digital Lycanthrope Press (2011)
Language: English
ISBN-10: 0615471072
ISBN-13: 978-0615471075
Product Dimensions: 5 x 0.3 x 8 inches
Shipping Weight: 6.2 ounces

BR Letters

*Original copyright for book and ebook held by T. F. Rhoden and T. L. S. Rhoden; cover design by Inga Böhm and cover photos by Khin Maung Kyaw; photo credit for image post goes to Current Issues in Refugee Education.Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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Review of Burmese Refugees by Pascal Khoo-Thwe

Review

Reviewed by Pascal Khoo-Thwe.

Burmese Refugees: Letters from the Thai-Burma Border is a collection of short, moving autobiographical essays written by Burmese refugees living in camps situated along the Thai-Burma border. The book consists of 31 essays, along with a concise history of the country, introductory notes to three sections the essays are divided into: 8888 Uprising, 2007 Uprising, Ethnic Strife and comments on or footnotes to each essay.

The complicated nature of Burmese politics and ethnic makeup means that it has never been easy to describe Burma accurately or fully in one book. But the diversity also offers many colorful and unique pictures with scintillating nuances to many scholars and observers alike who want to go beyond the political norm and clichés.

Burmese Refugees is an invaluable and rare book that faithfully records the complexities and subtleties in the often depressing and hopeless situations of Burmese refugees who live in political limbo, and often forgot or ignored by the outside world until bad things happen to them. It manages to string together episodes of the lives of the refugees in a compact form without sensationalizing them, with excellent editing and deep understanding of the issues of the country.

The comments at the end of each essay serve as important frames or strings to hold individual stories and link them together like a string of pearls. Far from being judgmental or patronizing, they help the reader understand the wider context of each case. It is refreshing to read a book about Burma that registers and elucidates the pains, the sorrows and the aspirations of the characters with equal measures through empathy, fairness and an eye for significant details often overlooked by the characters themselves.

A matter of fact descriptions by the characters about their lives and the even-handedness of the editors make the ‘mundane’ stories more alluring, vivid and thought-provoking as they only ask understanding from the readers through their often desperate, naïve, hopeful voices, but still retaining their dignity.

Pascal Khoo-Thwe is the author of From the Land of Green Ghosts: A Burmese Odyssey.

*Original copyright for Burmese Refugees belongs to T. F. Rhoden and T. L. S. Rhoden; image credit at top of post via Hedda. Special thanks to Pascal for the wonderful review! Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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Behind the Barbwire

Adventure in Thai-Burma Refugee Camp Inspire Book.

I heard the good news only days before our class graduation: There was an opportunity for me to return to Southeast Asia and work with refugee populations along the Thai-Burma border. This was in spring 2009; when the financial recession was at its nastiest and consequently not the best time to be a newly minted MBA looking for work.

I recall there being more than a few lackadaisical Thunderbirds at the graduation reception party that evening. That night I had felt myself lucky to have had found a gig that synced perfectly with my experiences before Thunderbird.

Living in a remote refugee camp does not normally register on an MBA’s list of optimal places to work after graduation. If not for a slightly bizarre desire on my own part to keep chasing one adventure after the next, I too might have found myself fi led away into a more traditional post-MBA existence.

Surprisingly, I found our MBA tool chest of skills to be extremely useful when I arrived in the refugee camp. After learning about the… [click here to continue to read full text]

thunderbird magazine

*Originally published on page 70 of Thunderbird Magazine by T. F. Rhoden (Spring 2011); photo credit for image in this re-post goes to Khin Maung Kyaw. Unless otherwise stated, all posts on this website are under Creative Commons licence. 

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