USAID Awards the IRC $24.4 Million to Improve Health and Education Services for Burmese Migrants and Refugees in Thailand
The U.S. Agency for International Development has awarded the International Rescue Commitee a US$24.4 million project, funded annually, to carry out an ambitious five-year program aimed at improving education and health services for Burmese refugees and migrants in Thailand.
“This important funding will enable the IRC to carry out a wide-ranging series of programs designed to alleviate suffering and bring sustainable, long-term improvement in the lives of hundreds of thousands of uprooted Burmese,” says George Rupp, the IRC’s president.
The IRC has long been concerned about the plight of Burmese refugees and migrants in Thailand. They often have little access to services such as health and education, and their ambiguous legal status creates vulnerability. The IRC programs have addressed some of these issues, but until now, the level of the organization’s funding in Thailand has been far short of what was needed.
“As part of the initiative, the IRC will work with local organizations—training their staff members and building their capacity—to bring better education and health care to eight Thai provinces with large Burmese populations that have the greatest need for assistance,” says Arthur Carlson, who heads the IRC’s programs in Thailand. “The IRC will also support a number of Thailand-based community organizations that conduct cross-border humanitarian relief operations, enabling the IRC to indirectly assist tens of thousands of people displaced inside Burma.”
A third element of the project, Carlson notes, focuses on further developing advocacy relationships with Thai government officials and agencies at the national and provincial level to address practical and policy issues affecting the Burmese in Thailand.
The IRC will carry out the program, “Support to Health, Institution Building, Education and Leadership in Policy Dialogue”, or SHIELD, in partnership with two other aid organizations that are widely respected globally for their technical expertise. They are Boston-based World Education, which helps provide non-formal education to disadvantaged populations, and Seattle-based PATH, which works to improve health standards around the world.
“We’re confident that the work of the SHIELD Program will make a difference in the lives of tens of thousands of Burmese refugees in the years to come,” says Carlson.
The IRC has been working in Thailand since 1976, originally assisting Cambodian refugees. Today IRC serves refugees, asylum seekers and migrants from Burma along the Thai-Burma border. Activities include comprehensive primary health care, water and sanitation programs, migrant health, funding for food distribution, eye-care services, health worker training, legal assistance and advocacy, and gender-based violence prevention/response. The IRC also runs a strong support program for local community-based organizations who provide humanitarian assistance to refugees in isolated border areas and internally displaced persons inside Burma. All IRC activities in Thailand incorporate the themes of; support and strengthening of local structures; support and capacity building of indigenous organizations; coordination and collaboration with the Thai Government and international organizations, other NGOs; and advocacy and protection on behalf of the rights and needs of refugees and migrants.