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Key issues for refugees from Myanmar (Burma)

For decades, Myanmar has been a country that has produced large numbers of refugees. Hundreds of thousands of people have sought safety abroad.

How many refugees have come from Myanmar?

At the end of 2018, UNHCR estimated that there were 1.1 million refugees from Myanmar. This made it the fourth-largest refugee population in the world.

Global Trends 2018

Global refugee numbers

Most refugees and others seeking protection live in Thailand, Bangladesh and Malaysia. Many of them are not protected by domestic laws in these countries. They often do not have access to work, education and healthcare.

Why have they left Myanmar?

Armed conflict

Many people have left because of the conflict between the Myanmar army and ethnic armed groups. This started after Burma became independent in 1948. About 32% of its population are from ethnic minorities. Most of its people are Buddhist (around 87.9%).

Report of Independent International Fact-Finding Mission on Myanmar .

Many of these minorities had not been subject to British control when Burma/Myanmar was a colony. Ethnic armed groups rebelled against the new government, including the Karen National Union (KNU).

In 1984, the army launched an offensive against the KNU. Around 10,000 refugees fled into Thailand. More people left after army offensives against ethnic armed groups in 1995-1997.

While many people have left Myanmar, many others have also moved within Myanmar. At the end of 2019 an estimated 457,000 have been forced to move due to conflict and violence.

Internally displaced in Myanmar

In December 2019, more than 273,000 displaced people were living in camps or camp-like situations in Myanmar. 69% of these were women and children.

Humanitarian Needs Overview 2020

Political repression

Myanmar has been ruled by a military regime for decades. In August 1988, mass demonstrations led to a violent crackdown. Around 10,000 people fled to Thailand. Most of the students eventually returned.

In 1990 a general election was won by Aung San Suu Kyi’s National League for Democracy. The League, however, was not allowed to take power, and more people fled to Thailand.

Understanding Myanmar


There are many natural disasters in Myanmar, especially floods and landslides. These cause many people to move temporarily. About 41,000 were estimated to have been forced to move within Myanmar because of natural disasters.

It is estimated that sudden disasters will cause on average more than 569,000 people to move every year.

IDMC – Myanmar

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