Uneven Humanitarianism: Abandoned Refugees along the Thai-Myanmar Border
This essay considers the case of uneven humanitarian aid distribution along the Thai-Myanmar border, where forcibly displaced migrants from Myanmar have been abandoned by the UNHCR and international humanitarian organizations. Based upon long-term ethnographic fieldwork along the Thai-Myanmar border amongst Tai migrants from the Shan State in Myanmar, I attend to the effects of the inequitable distribution of rights and privileges in an international humanitarian system that is predicated on the neoliberal logic of uneven development. After two centuries of British colonial occupation and later Burman authoritarian rule, the ethnic minority groups along the Thai-Myanmar border are now facing another crisis – that of abandonment as NGOs search for new and more pressing humanitarian disasters elsewhere. The essay addresses a concept I call uneven humanitarianism as a neocolonial condition for peoples living in the Thai-Myanmar borderlands by specifically focusing on Tai peoples who are living in unofficial refugee camps that lost foreign funding in 2017. I argue that the ad hoc treatment and eventual abandonment of these vulnerable groups – that are currently in the midst of the world’s most protracted civil war and displacement situation – constitutes a failure of the “responsibility to protect” humanitarian project.
Key Words: Migration, humanitarianism, NGOs, Thailand, Myanmar.