Thailand IDP Figures Analysis

IDMC estimates that up to 35,000 people were displaced in Thailand as of April 2015


IDMC’s estimate is based on a report by the International Crisis Group (ICG, 23 October 2007, p.19). According to this report, in 2007 the number of IDPs ranged between 35’000 and 100’000. ICG provides no information on how it collected its data to come to this figure. Since then, no new credible estimate on the number of IDPs has been available.

IDMC’s choice of the lower end of this range is based on information provided by a number of interlocutors it met during a mission to the region in 2011. During the mission, IDMC collected information on the number of IDPs since 2004 from a variety of sources, including government officials, academics, researchers and local journalists (seeIDMC overview, 13 November 2011). According to the interviewees, the majority of IDPs had most likely integrated locally or settled elsewhere in the previous seven years.

However, no assessment has been carried out on extent to which IDPs have been able to achieve durable solutions. Moreover, as some level of displacement has continued in recent years, IDMC believes that as many as 35,000 people could still carry vulnerabilities linked to their displacement, in particular related to land and property issues.

The IDPs encompass both Buddhists and Muslims Malays who fled the ongoing armed conflict that flared up in early 2004 between the Thai authorities and a number of insurgent groups in the southern Muslim Malay provinces of Pattani, Yala and Narathiwat, also known as the “Deep South” region. The largest displacement movements took place between 2005 and 2007 when violence was the most intense, which led many Buddhists who lived in the countryside to regroup into enclaves (AI, 27 September 2011, p. 8). After that displacement movements largely ceased (INSS, September 2011, p.11).

The exact number of people who have fled their homes since 2004 is unknown but according to Mr. Surin Pitsuwan, the former Secretary-General of ASEAN, the conflict has caused several thousands people to be internally displaced (DSRR/tRI, 2014, p.4).

Among those trying to flee from the violence, the region’s Buddhist minority was disproportionately affected (AI, 27 September 2011, p.8). Available information points to a 20 to 50 per cent decrease of the Buddhist population in the region between 2004 and 2011, with between 35,000 and 240,000 people displaced. A national census conducted in 2010 showed that on average the proportion of Buddhists in the Deep South had declined by 20 per cent. In terms of numbers, the Buddhist population dropped by 70,605 people, from 361,735 in 2000 to 289,130 in 2012 (National Statistical Office of Thailand, March 2014).  

The most recent estimate puts the number of Buddhist displaced since 2004 at 200,000 people, which corresponds approximately to half the pre-conflict Buddhist minority population who lived in the region (AP, September 2013).   

This high proportion of Buddhist IDPs matched another source, a Malay journalist from Issara news agency met by IDMC during its mission in 2011. Based on her interviews with military and government officials as well as extensive field visits, she estimated that close to 50 per cent of Buddhists had fled their homes.

Regarding Malay Muslims displaced since 2004, little information is available on their numbers. However, according to the journalist from Issara news agency, up to ten per cent, or 130,000 people, had fled from their homes.

IDPs often moved from rural to urban areas within the Deep South, with the Buddhist population that was living in different areas in the provinces regrouping in safer enclaves. Others left the region and moved to neighbouring provinces, or to the main cities such as Bangkok. As for Malay Muslims, they settled - often temporarily - in neighbouring Malaysia. While some fled in direct response to the violence, many moved because of the adverse effects of the conflict on the economy, on the availability and quality of education or on the provision of social services.

As many of the displacements were intended to be only temporary, families split, with the head of the household remaining in the region, and the wife and children moving to safer areas (AI, 27 September 2011, p.8). Some secured new houses or apartments in cities close to the Deep South provinces such as Hat Yai, Songhkla province, where they left their families while the head of households commuted back and forth (Bangkok Post, 13 June 2011).

IDMC uses only the most credible accurate information available. Notwithstanding the caveats and limitations of the source information described above, IDMC believes this to be the best data and is grateful to the partners for sharing it.