Aid agencies struggle to cope with refugees fleeing Burma

new arrivals at Hsa Thoo Lei centre

new arrivals at Hsa Thoo Lei centre

Aid agencies are reporting a massive increase in refugees fleeing Burma.

Andrew Scadding, director of the Thai Children's Trust said: "This human tragedy is on a scale greater than cyclone Nargis, and should command at least as generous a response from the public here and throughout the western world.

Out of the media spotlight, the Burmese Army similarly persists in breaking the rules of war by indiscriminately attacking civilians and causing massive displacement.

Jack Dunford, Executive Director of the Thailand  Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) said:  “After 25 years of responding to the consequences of conflict in eastern Burma, it is tragic to see the causes remain unaddressed and the situation is likely to further deteriorate during the next twelve months.  A recent influx of refugees into Thailand and monitoring reports from internally displaced communities indicate that violence and abuse in eastern Burma are increasing”.
TBBC is an alliance of twelve aid agencies from ten countries working to provide food, shelter, non-food items and capacity building support to Burmese refugees and displaced persons.  Christian Aid  is a UK member charity and CAFOD support TBBC via Caritas.

The humanitarian agency has just released findings from field surveys about conflict and displacement conducted with over 3,100 households during the past five years in rural areas of eastern Burma.
The main threats to human security in eastern Burma are related to militarisation. Military patrols and landmines are the most significant and fastest growing threat to civilian safety and security, while forced  labour and restrictions on movement are the most pervasive threats to livelihoods.  Trend analysis suggests that the threats to both security and livelihoods have increased during the past five years.
Over 3,500 villages and hiding sites in eastern Burma have been destroyed or forcibly relocated since 1996,  including 120 communities between August 2008 and July 2009.  The scale of displaced villages is comparable to the situation in Darfur and has been recognised as the strongest single indicator of crimes against humanity in eastern Burma.  At least 75,000 people were forced to leave their homes during this past year, and more than half a million people remain internally displaced.
The highest rates of recent displacement were reported in northern Karen areas and southern Shan State.

Almost 60,000 Karen villagers are hiding in the mountains of Kyaukgyi, Thandaung and Papun Townships,  and a third of these civilians fled from artillery attacks or the threat of Burmese Army patrols during the past year. Similarly, nearly 20,000 civilians from 30 Shan villages were forcibly relocated by the Burmese Army in retaliation for Shan State Army-South (SSA-S) operations in Laikha, Mong Kung and Keh Si Townships.

Thailand’s National Security Council recently acknowledged it was preparing for another mass influx of  refugees due to conflict in Burma’s border areas leading up to the proposed elections in 2010.  Conflict has already intensified in Karen State with over 4,000 Karen refugees fleeing into Thailand during June.  The increased instability is related to demands that ethnic ceasefire groups transform into Border Guard Forces under Burmese Army command.  Such pressure has already resulted in the resumption of hostilities in the Kokang region which caused 37,000 civilians to flee into China.
“The breakdown of 20 year old ceasefire agreements reflects how the Burmese junta’s ‘road map to democracy’ offers no political settlement for the ethnic minority groups.  Whether next year’s elections provide a small window of opportunity or merely entrench military rule, there is an urgent need to address ethnic grievances in order to promote national reconciliation and solutions for displaced persons”, said Mr Dunford.
Andrew Scadding, director of the Thai Children's Trust, which supports 700 refugee children  at the Hsa Thoo Lei Learning Centre, and sponsors 47 more schools and nutrition projects on the Thai-Burmese border said of the report: "It is a disappointing read, but it is entirely consistent with what we in TCT have learned from our Karen and Burmese colleagues over the past few months.

"The total number of refugees of on both sides of the border may now approach twp million, with more than a million of these in Thailand.

"TBBC are facing an impossible task, trying to deal with a burgeoning problem whilst their resources are being cut, but they are feeding only 130,000 of the refugees in camps.  I think I am correct in saying that this is 30,000 fewer than twelve months ago, whilst the total number of refugees has increased following action by SPDC forces in the Eastern provinces of Burma this year.   The vast majority live illegally in slum shacks and are hopeless, poverty stricken and vulnerable to the most brutal exploitation.

"This human tragedy is on a scale greater than cyclone Nargis, and should command at least as generous a response from the public here and throughout the western world.  Western governments should be firm in their criticism of the brutality of the SPDC and generous in their response to the needs of the Burmese refugees.  Instead they ignore the problem, and funding to TBBC is progressively reduced. It’s a disgrace."

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