Two decades ago, an intensifying civil war between Karenni separatists and the Burmese army caused Kayar residents to flee Myanmar. Thailand granted the Kayan temporary stay under “conflict refugee” status. Now, the 500 or so Kayans (also known as Padaung people) live in guarded villages on the northern Thai border.
The tribe has a custom where some women wearing rings to create the appearance of a long neck. This exotic tradition inspired the creation of tourism villages in 1985. Some Padaung moved to these artificial hill tribe residencies with work permits to make a living on tourism. But without citizenship, Kayans have limited access to utilities such as electricity, roads, health care and schools for education. Furthermore, Thai authorities refuse to allow Kayans to resettle outside tourist villages, claiming they are economic migrants and not real refugees.