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The Cost of Hope
fter escaping Myanmar, Seethong’s parents found work – and created a life – on a rubber plantation in southern Thailand.

But when 6-year-old Seethong crushes his hand in a rubber press, his hospital bill threatens to ruin everything his family has built.

In the weeks following Seethong’s injury, his sister stays by his hospital bed while his father and brother begin a rigorous work schedule, struggling to pay the mounting medical bill. Seethong’s mother travels between home and the hospital, acting as the bridge for her suddenly fractured family.

One thing holds the family together – knowing that this injury would have been far more devastating in Myanmar. Despite the cost, there is hope for them on this side of the border.


Slideshow Rubber Tapping
In southern Thailand, rubber tapping plays a crucial role in the local economy, and laborers from Myanmar who collect and process the rubber are a vital part of the industry.

Source: Cornell Center for Materials Research

Q & A Migration from Myanmar to Thailand
There are more than 2 million people from Myanmar living in Thailand, according to the BBC, making the movement of people across the Thailand-Myanmar border one of Southeast Asia's largest migration flows.

Why are people leaving Myanmar?

Myanmar remains one of the world's poorest and least developed countries, according to professor Kevin Hewison, director of UNC-Chapel Hill’s Carolina Asia Center.

Myanmar’s emigrants escape political repression, an abusive government and internal warfare, as well as struggling schools and poor health and welfare agencies. Government persecution of ethnic minorities also sends thousands into Thailand. The family in “The Cost of Hope” is Mon and lived on the margin of society in Myanmar.

Many people came to Thailand seeking aid and economic opportunity after Cyclone Nargis killed thousands in Myanmar.

How do they get to Thailand? Is it risky?

There are many ways to get to Thailand. In some places along the lengthy Thailand-Myanmar border, laborers can simply walk or swim between countries.

This does not mean the passage is not dangerous, Hewison says. Both countries have border patrols. Many people from Myanmar pay smugglers significant amounts of money to take them to Thailand and can find themselves in extremely vulnerable situations. In April 2008, more than 50 people from Myanmar suffocated in a storage container on the back of a truck taking them to southern Thailand.

What role do immigrants play in the Thai economy?

The Thai economy has become reliant on cheap migrant labor from Myanmar, Hewison says, just as Latino immigrants have become an essential part of the U.S. economy.

Workers from Myanmar tend to do the dirtier and more dangerous jobs that Thais avoid. They often work in fishing, manufacturing, construction and agriculture, according to Amnesty International. In southern Thailand, many immigrants work on rubber plantations and the local economy relies on their labor.

Do immigrants from Myanmar have the option to become fully integrated Thai citizens?

“The answer is basically, ‘No,’” Hewison says. “There have been cases of marriage to a Thai, but these are not common.”

What is life like for immigrants in Thailand?

Most immigrants find new challenges in Thailand. They work long hours, often have trouble accessing education and health care and find that “their lives revolve around the job,” Hewison says. Work and living conditions for laborers fall far below international standards, according to Amnesty International. Because many people come to Thailand illegally, they are subject to exploitation by employers, local police and smugglers.

At the same time, Thailand offers opportunities not available in Myanmar, and many people living in Myanmar rely on the money sent home from relatives working across the border.


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