Because of human rights abuses and deteriorating economic conditions, the number of Burmese refugees has increased dramatically since the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC) seized power in September 1988. Among the first refugees were an estimated 8,000-10,000 activists who left following the new military regime's suppression of the Democracy Summer movement. This group, mostly students but also including teachers, civil servants, and members of the Sangha, was largely urban and Burman (Bamar). Based along the lengthy Thai-Burma border, many joined the All Burma Students' Democratic Front (ABSDF) and fought together with other members of the Democratic Alliance of Burma (DAB) against the SLORC. By the mid-1990s, however, a majority of these activists had left the border area and settled in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, and other parts of Thailand, or went farther afield to Japan, North America, or Western Europe. Smaller groups of student refugees settled in China and India. Since 1988, a steady stream of Burman and ethnic minority intellectuals, artists, and members of the Pyithu Hluttaw who won seats in the General Election of May 27, 1990, have also gone abroad, fleeing persecution.
   By far the largest number of refugees are members of ethnic minorities who have, either directly or indirectly, been targets of the "Four Cuts" strategy of the Tatmadaw, aimed at removing popular support for such insurgent movements as the Karen National Union. These include Shans, Karennis, Karens (Kayins), and Mons, most of whom have fled across the border into Thailand. They can be divided into two groups: a relatively stable population of Karens, Mons, and Karennis, numbering 120,000-130,000, who live in refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border; and a much larger group of people from Shan State, as many as one million, who work as illegal or semilegal laborers inside Thailand. India has an estimated 52,000 refugees, mostly Chin, Bangladesh about 120,000 Muslim Rohingyas, and China an undetermined number of Kachins. Although most Burmese refugees live in neighboring countries, there is a large number of Rohingyas in Malaysia and the Middle East. The total number of Burmese refugees is unknown, but is probably between one and two million.
   The conventional distinction between political refugees, who are fleeing persecution at home, and economic refugees, who are seeking a better livelihood abroad, is not especially useful in Burma's case because many in the latter category, especially ethnic minorities, are fleeing truly desperate conditions caused by the policies of the State Peace and Development Council. They include minority women and girls who have been drawn into the sex industry in northern Thailand because of extreme economic deprivation (an estimated 20,000-30,000 in the early 1990s). Internally displaced persons, victims of forced relocation numbering between 600,000 and one million, often become refugees. Although educated refugees have been able to create an intellectually active exile community in neighboring countries or the West, the great majority endure great insecurity and deprivation outside their homeland.
   See also Forced Labor.

Historical Dictionary of Burma (Myanmar). . 2014.

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