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BORDER CRISIS

Fighting between Burma army soldiers and Karen fighters along the Thai
Burma border has displaced as many as 12,000 villagers. These people are now
taking refuge in 22 hiding sites on both sides of the border. Journalists from the
Karen Information Centre are reporting daily from the conflict areas and from
the displacement sites.

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Rain and cold a crisis for new refugees


The Thai Burma border

Community organizations delivering aid to refugees recently displaced by


fighting in Karen state are worried the recent cold weather and heavy rain along
the border are a health risk for the 12,000 people taking shelter in makeshift
hiding sites.
March 29: BY SAW THEIN MYINT (KIC)

Community health workers say the displaced people are urgently in need of proper shelters as the
heavy rain and cold over recent days is hurting young children. The refugees are seeking temporary
safety in Thailand after fighting broke out in the Palu and Walay areas in February.

A community-based worker said the weather and cold has made conditions worse.

“Their shelters don’t block the rain, as many as three families are living in small shelters, hardly big
enough for one family. The situation is critical. The people have no room to move, to sleep and they
have to stay there until the rain stops.”

The community worker says the refugees don’t want to stay in Thailand, but cannot return to their
homes in Burma because of landmines.

“They people are being pressured by local Thai authorities to go back, but are afraid. The people
feel they are caught in a situation where they can’t get on with their lives. This is mentally bad for
them --- the rain, the fighting, landmines, shelter, food --- is hurting the people.”

A headman now staying in a Thai village in Pop Pra Township told Karen Information Centre it
rained for four days last week and it has rained again for two days this week.

“The plastic sheets that we were given when we first arrived are now covered are now rotten from
being exposed to the sun and don’t block the rain. Villagers are coping the best they can. Some are
moving to shelter at friends or with relatives but that also causes them stress."

The headman explains the refugees feel bad imposing themselves and their families on friends and
relatives who themselves are already struggling. He is also concerned the weather and poor living
conditions could result in an outbreak of disease among the displaced people.
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“The health of our people will suffer if the rain and cold stays like this. Fortunately, we have not
had any disease outbreaks yet.”

A Karen villager now a refugee also explained how the weather was affecting her family.

"We need not only shelter, but also warm clothes. When our hands and foot get cold, we can’t do
anything. This rain is not like wet season rain - it's very cold. We are worried for our kids."

A senior relief worker explained the Thailand based humanitarian agency the Thai-Burma Border
Consortium (TBBC) are providing basic resources to the refugees while health care is being
provided by border based health workers and community-based-organizations.

The senior relief worker says the size of the current shelter, medical care and food delivery facing
the refugees is beyond the capabilities, financial resources and other resources of the local groups.

“We know the difficulties that the refugees are facing. The on-going conflict didn’t allow enough
time to initiate a proper planning phase to provide them shelter under the current weather
conditions. The reasons are twofold - limited funding and local authorities do not officially
recognized the refugees. This makes it very difficult for NGOs and CBO’s to effectively provide
assistance.”

The Back Pack Health Worker Team estimates, "that as of mid-February 2011, as many as 12,000
Burmese villagers have crossed the border."

Many of the displaced people are originally from villages in Palu and Walay areas of Myawaddy
district in Karen State, others are scattered in a number of makeshift camps on a narrow 800km strip
along the Thai border provinces of Kanchanburi, Tak and Mae Hong Son.

The Back Pack Health Worker Team is an independent, non-profit organization that has been
delivering health care for over 13 years to people in conflict zones and rural areas deep inside
Burma - where access to health care is otherwise unavailable.

The organization's secretary, Mahn Mahn, explained that villagers close to the border fled their
homes after the Burmese army moved into the area to wage was against factions of the Democratic
Karen Buddhist Army.

“The recent cold weather is a problem. The earthquake in northeast Burma means there is also a
demand for tarpaulin to help shelter the homeless. The cold weather is a problem for young children
and the old. They need food, extra clothing and blankets.”

The headman says there has not been any change in the current situation and threats from landmine
is still huge danger making it hard for villagers to return to their homes.

#ENDS#