Covid-19: Kayan ‘Long Neck’ Refugees From Myanmar Struggle as Thailand’s Tourism Crashes, Leaving These Tribe Destitute.
They left their homeland decades ago, and for a time found a future in Thailand’s tourism industry. But the pandemic has changed all that. Now many Kayan Long Neck women have lost their jobs, their homes and their dreams.
Fleeing internal political unrest and violent clashes between the Myanmar military regime and several ethnic minority armies in the 1980s, the ethnic group fled from Karenni State, Myanmar and settled as refugees on the border of Mae Hong Son of northern Thailand where they have been dependent upon tourism, a major source of their income.
Their resettlement has introduced the distinctive Kayan culture to the region. The iconic images of Kayan women with their traditional dress wearing neck rings have geared up for domestic and foreign tourists which in turn make a lucrative income for the Thai tourism industry. Later, the cultural attraction has expanded into major tourist sites in Thailand.
After the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in March of 2020, travel restrictions and business closures were implemented across the kingdom. Big job losses in the tourism industry over the past months have left many Kayan Long Neck women with no income and some become homeless.
Since they are grouped as ethnic minorities, their options are limited. Moreover, the access of social welfare and government subsidies during Covid-19 outbreak is also prohibited.
Without visitors, they are living in Limbo.