The Thai border town of Mae Sot has been a haven for Burma’s political dissidents and exiles for over two decades. Since Burma began undergoing a democratic transition in 2010, an increasing number of individuals politically exiled to Mae Sot have cautiously returned to their motherland. The town’s Burmese community continues to host visitors, merchants, and, largely, migrant workers—of whom there are an estimated 3 million from Burma in Thailand, seeking work and educational opportunities that remain difficult to come by particularly in rural parts of their homeland. Although they are not recognized as refugees, of this population, an untold number have also been displaced by Burma’s ongoing conflict.
Meanwhile, the Thai government is taking measures to set up a special economic zone in Mae Sot—dubbed the “western exit economic hub” of Thailand. So far, a highway is under construction between Tak—the capital of Tak District—and Mae Sot. Another highway linking Myawaddy and Kawkareik in Burma’s Karen State has already been constructed. Plans are also underway to build a second “friendship bridge” connecting the two countries.