Shan Migrants Head Home for Water Festival


Thai authorities waive border-crossing fees, setting off an early exodus.

Photo by U Htun Maesai

Tens of thousands of migrant workers have returned to Shan State from Thailand over the past week as Thingyan festivities get under way to mark the start of the Buddhist New Year.

The exodus of Shan workers employed in a variety of industries in neighboring Thailand began last Friday and is expected to continue through the week.

Most, however, have already made their way back to their hometowns to celebrate the famous water festival. According to local sources, traffic was heavy all this week at the border crossing between Mae Sai, in northern Thailand’s Chiang Rai Province, and Tachilek in Shan State.

“Many people were returning home between April 5 and April 10. According to Thai immigration officers, nearly 40,000 people passed through the gate during this period,” Sai Oo, a businessman based in Tachilek, told SHAN.

He noted that many of the Shan workers seemed to be trying to take full advantage of special permission granted by the Thai authorities to cross the border free of charge during Thingyan, which is celebrated as Songkran in Thailand.

Earlier this month, Thai government officials announced that they would waive the usual fees to exit and enter Thailand between April 5 and April 30. However, workers from Burma will be required to pay a 2,000-baht (US$63) fee to re-enter the Kingdom if they don’t return before the end of the month.

According to the local news outlet 7Day News, nearly 200,000 migrant workers from Burma are expected to return to the country through three official border crossings.

There are an estimated two million workers from Burma legally employed in Thailand, many of them from Shan State. Most work as housemaids, farm laborers or construction workers, especially in the northern provinces of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai and Lamphun.

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