IRC responds to renewed refugee crisis on the Thailand-Myanmar border
More than two decades after Burmese refugees first began crossing into Thailand, poverty and violent conflict in Myanmar’s ethnic minority areas continue to drive people into camps along the border. (Photo: Peter Biro/The IRC)
The International Rescue Committee (IRC) is taking part in a coordinated humanitarian effort to offer assistance to an estimated 20,000 people who fled to Thailand in the wake of post-election violence in Myanmar. The IRC is providing health services and distributing emergency supplies to the displaced.
“We are very concerned about the well being of the people who remain displaced by the fighting,” said Shane Scanlon, the IRC’s deputy director in Thailand who is overseeing the relief effort. “They lack access to basic services and security and the IRC is working closely with local organizations and the health ministry here in Thailand to address their most pressing needs.”
After fighting broke out between government troops and an ethnic rebel group in eastern Myanmar following national elections on November 7, tens of thousands of people fled across the notoriously porous border into Thailand where they found temporary shelter. Although most of those who fled have now returned to Myanmar, formerly Burma, thousands of refugees are living in churches, mosques and with relatives on the Thai side of the border, and the situation remains volatile.
Minority groups in border regions of Myanmar have been fighting against government control since the country’s independence from Britain in 1948, in one of the world’s longest-running insurgencies. Although the elections were Myanmar’s first in 20 years, some armed factions are unwilling to accept a new constitution and attempts to bring them under Burmese army command.
During the past two weeks, the IRC began distributing milk, clothing, blankets, soap, towels and other items to hundreds of refugees in Tak Province near the Myanmar border. In the coming days, the IRC will distribute anti-malaria medications, antibiotics and vitamins. Many of the refugees are suffering from a variety of injuries and medical problems. IRC doctors are accompanying a mobile health team from the Mae Tao clinic to treat the sick and ailing. An IRC team has also been assessing the refugees’ overall medical needs and relaying the information to Thai health authorities.
Meanwhile, the IRC is monitoring the situation on the border and preparing for the possibility that an escalation in the fighting will result in more refugees crossing into Thailand, the IRC’s Scanlon said.