Challenges and Solutions for SWAN on the Thai-Burma Border

11 June 2021

The Challenges

As the 2nd largest ethnic minority group in Burma, more than 200,000 Shan people were forced to flee their homes in 1996 when the Burmese Army torched their villages, forcing them to settle in makeshift camps along the Thai-Burma border ever since. Access to healthcare, education, food and shelter is limited and Shan people struggle to gain employment in neighbouring Thailand as they are not officially recognised as refugees.

A SWAN CHW visiting a Shan family on the Thai border.

Since 2009, Shan children have been afforded the right to attend Thai school but difficulties in accessing education remain for a variety of reasons. Parents are often on the move because of the nomadic irregularity of the work available to Shan refugees. Many are afraid to leave the worksites on which they live due to fears of deportation and arrest, many cannot afford school uniform or transportation for their children and many simply live too far away for schooling to be viable. This is in addition to fears of abduction for girls and the fact that pupils are taught entirely in Thai, a language most Shan children do not speak.

Fast forward to 2021 and the Shan continue to face increased oppressive violence following the February 2021 coup. Many arrive in Thailand without documentation, and even those who do possess ID face substantial hardship rebuilding their lives. Many reside in unofficial camps or work as low paid migrant workers, fulfilling roles deemed too dirty, dangerous, and difficult for Thai residents. Undocumented workers live and work at the mercy of their employers, faced with the constant threat of deportation and with no protection from the law.


The Solution

Longstanding HART partner, the Shan Women’s Action Network (SWAN) was initially founded in 1999 to provide quality care for those arriving as refugees at the Thai border following on-going persecution by the Burmese Army.

At SWAN’s 20th anniversary celebrations in 2019, Nang Lao Liang Won, SWAN Co-founder told us that, “Shan people were not recognised as refugees in Thailand, and they had to work in fields as migrant workers. Women and children had no support- that was a motivator to start up SWAN.”

The school and nursery which caters for Shan children on the Thai border.

In 2010, SWAN registered as an NGO in Thailand to better respond to the needs of displaced communities along the Thai-Burma border. Here, SWAN’s programmes have focused on education, seeking to support teacher salaries, learning resources, school lunches and student transport. HART is proud to support SWAN’s work at the Loi Htet nursery school in Fang. SWAN’s goal here is to improve the standard of educational opportunities available for Shan children on the Thai-Burma border and ultimately increase the number of Shan children attending school. The project currently targets the children of migrant workers, children from families with uncertain legal status, children from families living in poverty, children whose parents have little or no education and children with disabilities who have previously never been supported.

SWAN currently provides lunches, stationary, and transport costs for students, as well as salaries for caretakers and administrative costs so that the school can continue to run. SWAN is deeply committed to supporting displaced children who have fled persecution and HART is proud to partner with an organisation like SWAN. However, whilst funding from HART helps to support the project, many needs remain including funds for teacher salaries and Shan language textbooks.

If you wish to support this cause, please donate here and quote ‘Fang migrant children’.

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