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Myanmar refugees in Thailand endure resettlement wait

As an evening thunderstorm rolled through a border town in Thailand in May, a group of families from Myanmar celebrated the onset of the rainy season together from their compound. Men chewed betel and drank tea from the veranda; children ran around until their clothes were drenched; a woman wearing a sarong brought out shampoo and washed her hair.

While they enjoyed the break from the stifling heat, it was a momentary respite for the families, who are all refugees.

They come from vastly different backgrounds: politicians and community organisers, civil servants who refused to work under the military government, and general citizens swept up in the pro-democracy movement. Their stories converge in that they all fled their homes following last February’s military coup, crossed irregularly into Thailand, and appealed to the United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) for humanitarian protection.

Unable to safely go back to Myanmar or to stay legally in Thailand, which does not recognise refugees living outside of camps, they are among 288 refugees from Myanmar who were referred by the UNHCR in Thailand to the governments of third countries for resettlement consideration since the beginning of 2021, according to the UNHCR’s online database. This number may also include refugees who crossed into Thailand before the coup, having fled former waves of persecution and violence.

The resettlement screening process has no fixed timeline, and some of the families with whom Al Jazeera spoke said that they began the process more than a year ago. While they wait, they rarely venture beyond the perimeter of their compound due to their undocumented status.

As they watch the seasons change together, grieving for what they left behind and anticipating what lies ahead, they have nurtured steadfast friendships.

“We came here, met each other and became a community,” said Htoo Aung. “We share common ground, which makes it easier to face our problems.”

He and other refugees featured in this report have been identified by pseudonyms and their location has been withheld for security reasons.

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