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Migration, Risk and Resilience: A Qualitative Study with Displaced Burmese Children and Families in Thailand

Conflict, repression, and extreme poverty in Burma/Myanmar trigger ongoing migration to Thailand. Most of the estimated 2 million Burmese in Thailand are undocumented and vulnerable to exploitation and marginalization. These threats extend to children, who are at risk of various forms of violence and negative developmental outcomes. 

Objectives: To examine how migration influences the manifestation of risk and the promotion of resilience among displaced Burmese children living in Thailand.

Semi-structured interviews were conducted with 52 adult caregivers and 48 key informants. Ten focus group discussions were conducted with 68 children between the ages of 9 and 15. Respondents described characteristics of child and family wellbeing and identified risk and protective factors. Data were analyzed through a combination of Grounded Theory and Thematic Content Analysis.

Migration from Burma/Myanmar to Thailand entailed a complex interaction of resource gains and losses, with implications for children’s wellbeing. Resource loss in Burma/Myanmar coupled with expectations of resource recovery or gain were motivators for migration to Thailand. However, adaptation to the post-migration environment often necessitated tradeoffs that increased risks to children’s safety and wellbeing and undermined the protective capacity of the family and community. “Risk chains” developed when attempts to cope with resource loss resulted in the accumulation of risk, including increased physical and emotional violence against children. The existence of personal, social and cultural resources – most notably a positive parent-child relationship – buffered children from risk and disrupted the formation of risk chains, thus promoting positive outcomes in spite of adversity.

This study contributes to the literature on risk and resilience by unpacking how risk accumulates in the context of migration. Findings reveal points of intervention to prevent violence against children and promote their resilience at multiple levels of the social ecology, particularly the parent-child relationship and family environment.