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Burmeserefugeesaretreatedashumanpingpongballin Thailand

ByMyoMinAung BackgroundofNuphocamp NuphoisalsocommonlyspeltNohHpo",andmeans"smalllake"inKaren.Itlocatedin UmphangDistrict,Tak Provinceanddistancefromborder:8km anddistancefromMaeSot:232kmsandapproximately6hoursdrivingtimeanddistancefrom Umphang:68kmandapproximately1hourdrivingtime.Areaisabout150acresandpopulatoin is14,000andmostlyethnicKaren. HistoryNuphocampwassetupinMarch1997afteramajoroffensiveduringwhichtheBurma ArmytookcontrolofDuplayaDistrictinKarenstate.Itwasestablishedtoconsolidatethe existingrefugeepopulationofMeterokeandBawNerHtacamps(bothweresetupin1992and hadpopulationsof4,595and2,078respectively)andtohousenewarrivalsfleeingfromthe currentoffensive.Inlate1997,groupsofnewarrivalscameintotwoareasoutsidethecampTa PerPoo(2,221)andNongLuag(771),wheretheyslightlyreceivedfoodandmedicalsupportfrom theNGOsbeforetheywereallowedtomoveintothecmap.InMarch2005,approximately800 personsofconernsfromUNHCRfromtheMaeSotareaweretransferredtothecampaspartof theRTG'spolicytorelocateallPOCsinurbanareastothebordercamp. AfterBurmaelectionandRTG'srole ThailandhasfordecadesservedasashelterforBurmeseoppositionactivistsfleeing political,ethnicandreligiouspersecution.BordercampsinThailandholdanestimated140,000 Burmese,thousandsofthemareunregistered.AnothertwotothreemillionBurmesehave slippedintoThailandpropertoescapeashatteringeconomyathome;theyhavebecome employeesoflowcostlabourforThaibusinesses.

OnthelastyearBurmeseelectionday,SundayNovember7,2010,armedoppositiongroups engagedincombinedmilitaryopperatoinsagainsttheBurmaArmyforcesinthebordertowns ofMyawaddyandThreePagoda'sPassresultingintheirtemporaryoccupation.Asaresultofthe fighting,morethan10,000personsfoundtemporaryshelterinThaigovernmentdesignated locatoninMaeSotdistrictofTakProvince,nearly4,000inPhopPhradistrict60Kmsouthof MaeSotandafurther3,000inUmphangdistrictofTakprovince.Thousandsmorearethoughtto havesoughtsafetyinThailandinotherborderareas. LandconfiscationandextortionaremorewidespreadimpactsoftheBurmaArmy'ssocalled" selfreliance"policy.Thejuntahasannouncedthatifceasefiregroupsdonotrespondregarding theagreementordisagreementontheBGFprogram,whilebuildinggoodrelationswithBurma, Thailand'sofficialsshouldnotconcentrateonlyonetheeconomicbenefits.Thailandshouldalso seetherootcauseofBurma'sdomesticwarwhichproducedrefugeealongtheborder. DKBAandBurmaArmy ThousandsofpeoplefromBurmahavefledtheongoingfightingbetweenBurmaarmyand DemoracticKarenBuddhistArmy(DKBA)intohidinginthejungleorcrosstheThaiborderas refugeessincelastyearNovember.Evenmorelackthistenuoussecurity,ekingoutanexistence inthemountainsandjungle,tryingtoavoidBurmesearmypatrols.Ethniccleansingisastrong term,throughrecentlyaBurmesegeneralboastedthatsoonthemuseumwillbetheonlyplace youwillfindakaren.InNuphocamp,someofKarenrefugeesarestillwaitingtoemigratetoa westernnation,somehopetoreturntotheirvillagesinapeacefulBurma,butwiththebrutal determinationofadictatorshipthatspendsalmosthalfofitsbudgetsonthemilitary,thismay nothappenanytimesoon. Thailandrefugeespolicyismisleading Thailand'spolicyofkeepingrefugeesfromBurmeseinninecampsincludingourNuphorefugee campsalongtheborderhascauseduntoldsufferingandshowsthatgovernmentdoesnotknow howtohandlerefugees.Thiswasparticularlythecasefor60,000refugeesnotregisteredbyThai government.MostThaiwerenotawarethat140,000refugeeshadbeenkeptincampsalongthe borderfor26years,andthatThaiarmyhadrecentlystoppeddistributingfoodtohte unregisteredrefugeesincludingNuphorefugeecampsincein2006,andhadtriedtoforcethem backtotheirhomecountry.InTakprovince,Nuphorefugeecamp,thegovernorwantedto

conductaheadcountofrefugeesinthecampsinordertoevictunregisteredrefugees.Thisisnot agoodtrend.WeallrefugeeswanttourgeThaistobemoresympathetictorefugees,whenthe Thaimediatalksaboutrefugeestalkaboutproblemandnotaboutwaystotreatrefugees better.Wewanttorevealthatwhathappensinsidethecamp,youdon'tknow.Thaiattitudes towardspeoplefromBurmawereshapedbyschooleducation,whichstilltreatsBurmaasthe nationalenemy.ManyThaisalsofailedtomakeadistinctionbetweenmigrantworkersand refugees. ThaisbelieveinthatBurmahadarealelectionlastfalltorepatriatetheserefugeesmostof whomwillreturnagainsttheirwill.Thoughtheelectionlastyearmayimprovethequalityof governmentinBurmamarginally,itwashardlyafreeorfairpoll,orsuggestiveofthekindof dramaticchangeonhumanrightsthatwouldmakeitsafetoreturnrefugees.Thereareother reasonsforThailand'ssuddenlyharderline.LeadingThaicompanyItalThailandisintheprocess ofmakingthelargesteverThaiinvestmentinDaweiDeepSeaPortinBurma,atover$13 billion.Andoverall,theThaigovernmenthastriedtofosterrapprochementwithits neighbor.Toobadthatmanyrefugeesaregoingtobetreatedasapawninthisrelationship. NuphorefugeescampinTakProvinceandProvincegovernor'sattitudetowardsrefugeees ThegovernorofThailand'sTakprovince,SamartLoifah,saiditistimetoconsiderrepatriating voluntarilytheBurmeserefugeesalongtheThaiBurmaborder.Takprovincehoststhousandsof Burmeserefugeesandmanymoremigrantliveandworkintheprovinve'smaintown,MaeSot. Burma'snotoriousmilitaryjuntaofficiallytransferredpowertoanewciviliangovernmenton March30thisyearledbyexGenThenSeinwhoisthechairmanofthejunta;sproxyparty,the UnionSolidarityandDevelopmentparty.Takgovernor,LoifahsaidBurmaisnolongerviolent, andweshouldstartconsideringaskingrefugeestoreturnvoluntarily.Healsourgedinternational donorstoreducefundingtotherefugeescampstoencouragepeopletoleaveThailand,saidthe report. LoifahreportedlysaidhewouldbehappytoworkwithEUandUNHCRiftheybegandecreasing fundingontheirassistancetothecampstopersuadeBurmesecitizentoleaveThailand.Aswell as,TakgovernorhasrejectedinternationalrequeststhatThailandrestartanabandoned screeningprocesstodeterminewhichpersonsaregenuinerefugees,asopposedtoeconomic migrants. InNuphorefugeescamp,mostofthecampresidentscamefromstrifetornvillagesineastern Burma,whichhasstillbeenplaguingrefugeesthatadecadesoldconflictbetweenthemilitary

andethnicminorityrebelsseekinggreaterautonomy.Vastnumbersfledtoescapethejunta's counterinsurgencycampaign,destroyingvillagesandforcingthemtoworkforarmy.Casesof rape,tortureandexecution. Refugeelife Refugeeslifecanbeharsh,refugeescannotworkorleavethecamps,which,atpresent,arerun withtheaidofinternationalagencies.RisingfoodpricesmayprompttheThailandBurmaBorder Consortium(TBBC)anumbrellagroupof12humanitarianorganizationwithmorethan140,000 BurmeserefugeesinThailand,tocutricerationsbyupto20percent.Additionalcutswillbe madetosalts,sugar,oilandchilirations.Higherexchangeratesandincreasedpricesoffoodstuff havemadesituationmoredifficulttobuyfood,thatastapleoftheBurmesediet,therice rationswillremainthesameforvulnerablegroups,includingchildrenundertheageoffive, pregnantandlactatingwomen,andtheill.Helplessinhabitantsarestillsheltered,andTBBC planstocarryoutannualnutritionsurveystoscreenthehealthsituation.Thailandcurrently hosts96,800refugeesfromBurmawhohavebeenregistered,andanestimated53,000who havenot,andarelivinginninegovernmentruncampsaongthe1,400kmThaiBurma border.TheBurmeserefugeescontinuetofacenumerousproblem:unemploymentforadults andyoungpeople,educationforchildren,healthcareandthegeneraldifficultyofcreatinga newlife,lookingtothefuture. RefugeesinNuphocamp ManycolorfulrefugeesareinNuphocamp,mostlykaren84%,theyenteredintocampdueto fightingandBurma11%,theyreachedintocampforhigherambitiontoresettletothirdcountry forbetterlifethanBurma.AndalittlebitofBurmanrefugeesareformerpoliticalprisoner, studentactivist,exABSDF,othersdefectorsfromBurmagovernment.Otherethnic5%,have manyrelativeinthirdcountry,somerefugeesinNuphocamparestronglystandingwithpackof moneybysendingbackfromtheirrelativeinthirdcountry,Asthenominalrefugees,somerich peoplesoldtheirpropertiesandbelongingsfromBurmaandthencameintoforgoingtoresettle towesternnationandEuropecountriesasshamrefugees,nowthispeopleslivinginastycoon refugeesandhandlingsmallscalebusinessandgamblingjobslikeinsideofBurma,doing twodigitlotteryfromBangkokstockexchangetheleasttwodigitnumber,theyhavetobribe withlocalcampcommanderandofficials.Thailandrefugeepolicyisslack,inthisplace,UNHCR's roleswasstillneglectedbyThaigovernmentfordirectlymonitoringrefugeesincampbecause Thailandisnotapartytothe1951convectionrelatingtothestatusofrefugeeorits1967

protocol,butitisamemberoftheintergovernmentexecutivecommissionforrefugee(UNHCR excom).Therefore,duetotheconsequentialroleincamp,refugeesarestillabandoned screeningpresstodeterminetobeagenuinerefugees.Manyrefugeeshavebeenfacinga seriouslackthefewbatteriesinthecamp.RealrefugeesinNuphocamparesufferingsevere foodstorageduetolittlesupportedbyThaiBurmaborderconsortium. OurmostdifficulttimeiswhenwehearthatBurmashampresident'sarmyaregoingtoattack ourcamp.Wealwaysprepareourselvesnottofightback,buttorunintothedeepjungle.Until today,wehaven'tcomeacrosssuchattackyetbutweheartheterriblesoundsofmotorsfalling inoutsurroundingandseesomevillagersfleeinghereandthere.Inaddition,wehearalmost everydaythattheThaigovernmentwillsendusallbacktoBurma.Wearereallydownhearted anddepressedbyharingthisstayinthecamp,theweakerwebecomepsychologically,mentally andphysically.Therearesomuchtosayaboutwhatarefugeelifeisallabout.Asforus,a refugeelifeisalifethatisfulloffearanduncertainty.TheNuphorefugeesalsoexpresstheir graveconcernfortheirfutureoftheirchildren.Weallrefugeesarecontinuouslycallingfor promptactionthatThailandtostoptreatingrefugeesfleeingconflictineasternBurmaas humanpingpongballs.