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A view of part of Mae La Oon Refugee Camp

A view of part of Mae La Oon Refugee Camp, home to approximately 14,000 people. The camp, which straddles a river flanked by steep hillsides, is plagued by landslides during the rainy season. © UNHCR/J.Redfern

UNHCR Update on Refugees from Myanmar

26 September, 2007 - Myanmar is Asia’s biggest producer of refugees – at least 400,000 in neighboring countries, many of whom have been in exile for two decades.

There are about 141,000 refugees from Myanmar in nine camps along the Thai-Myanmar border.  Of those, 128,516 (mainly ethnic Karen and Karenni) are registered refugees and the others are awaiting decisions from Thailand’s Provincial Admissions Board as to whether they will get official status. In Malaysia, where refugees do not live in camps, but live in cities among the local population, UNHCR has registered 29,774 refugees from Myanmar, from many ethnic groups and religions. In Bangladesh there are 27,000 refugees in two UNHCR-run camps; they are Muslims from Myanmar’s northern Rakhine state, also known as Rohingyas. There are up to 200,000 other Rohingyas living among the local population in Bangladesh who are not officially registered as refugees.

UNHCR Support for Myanmar refugees by country:


The nine refugee camps are run by the Thai Ministry of the Interior, and food, medicine, education and other services are provided by a consortium of NGOs. UNHCR provides protection – making sure that refugees live in safety and relative security within the camps -- and fills gaps in services. The main ethnic group in the camps is the Karen.

Myanmar refugees have been in Thailand for up to 20 years. Under Thai government regulations, they are not allowed to go out of the camps for any reason, not even to work or study. They are not allowed to settle permanently, so the only solution that has been found for them is resettlement. UNHCR has a major resettlement program – the biggest in the world right now – that has seen more than 10,000 refugees leave for the U.S., Canada and Australia. Other resettlement countries for Myanmar refugees from Thailand include Finland, Great Britain, Ireland, the Netherlands, Norway, New Zealand and Sweden.


More than 300 make use of first free clinic for refugee women in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia
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Of the 29,774 registered Myanmar refugees, 12,708 are Rohingyas, 10,996 are Chins, 3,390 are Muslims and the remainder are from various other ethnic groups. In Malaysia, UNHCR is the sole actor in the registration and status determination of asylum-seekers.

Many refugees in Malaysia are able to find work in the informal sector to support themselves. UNHCR’s financial support is limited to the most vulnerable cases, and its most important work is refugee protection. UNHCR advocates that the Malaysian government grant formal status to Rohingyas and Myanmar Muslim refugees who have been in the country for years. Another 6,000 Myanmar refugees who have no strong ties to Malaysia are expected to be resettled in third countries this year.


Read more about UNHCR’s work in Bangladesh on the Bangladesh Country page on the UNHCR International site.

The refugees are in two camps, Nayapara and Kutupalong, in the Cox’s Bazar region of southwest Bangladesh. The Teknaf River divides Myanmar from this region of Bangladesh. UNHCR provides all care and services for the refugees who have languished there in substandard conditions for 16 years. In 2007 UNHCR made great strides in improving services – new shelters are being constructed for everyone, another grade has been added to the informal education system, and the national school curriculum is being introduced. UNHCR has also been able to provide literacy training for adults, enhanced skills training and improved medical care.

Read more about UNHCR’s work in Bangladesh:


UNHCR promotes first significant steps towards citizenship for disenfranchised minority
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Inside Myanmar, the Muslims of northern Rakhine state (Rohingyas) are deprived of citizenship and UNHCR is working to improve the situation of those who are stateless.  Other activities also include monitoring the reintegration of 236,495 returnees to northern Rakhine state from Bangladesh. They fled persecution by the military junta in 1991, but returned from Bangladesh shortly thereafter. UNHCR has helped them get government identity cards, which could be the first step towards citizenship. UNHCR is also providing Myanmar language training, which helps them in their dealings with the government. UNHCR and its implementing partners also provide vocational training, health and nutrition services, and improvements to schools.

In southeast Myanmar, the region from where the refugees in Thailand are from, UNHCR is involved with communities affected by displacement.



Lebanese flagFor the most up-to-date information on UNHCR's relief efforts in Myanmar, visit the Myanmar country page on the UNHCR International website.

Cyclone: Myanmar Emergency

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