Programs in Thailand
Assisting Undocumented Burmese
In 2008, an estimated 66,000 people of various ethnic backgrounds were forced to leave their homes in Burma because of civil strife, political upheaval and economic stagnation. Many end up in the refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border, but others work in dangerous and low-paying jobs in factories, on construction sites, farms or on fishing boats in Thailand. Often, they lack documentation, which limits their access to essential services. The IRC's Support to Health, Institution Building, Education, and Leadership in Policy Dialogue (SHIELD) program aims to increase access to education and healthcare services for these undocumented Burmese. Targeting over 100,000 people, SHIELD collaborates with a wide range of partners, including the Thai Education and Public Health Ministries, Burmese community-based organizations and international aid groups. To support the development of local organizations, IRC staff provide extensive training and technical support to its partners. SHIELD is also working to prevent avian influenza along the Thai-Burma border by developing response procedures in case of an outbreak; training partner organization in detection and response; and launching awareness campaigns about the disease.
Assisting Burmese Refugees in the Camps
Health, Water and Sanitation: The IRC provides comprehensive healthcare, water and sanitation services to approximately 23,000 refugees in the Ban Kwai and Ban Mae Surin camps in Mae Hong Son Province, and to 8,000 refugees in the Tham Hin camp in Ratchaburi Province. In the camp's health clinics the IRC offers reproductive and child healthcare, primary health care and eye-care, as well as training refugee health workers. The IRC runs extensive programs to help people protect themselves against serious diseases such as HIV/AIDS, Tuberculosis and malaria. We also maintain water systems and sanitation services. As a result of this assistance, the health status of Burmese refugees in the camps has been steadily improving from over the past 15 years, with all major health indicators comparable with Thailand and significantly better than in Burma.
Legal Aid and Protection:
In 2006, in collaboration with UNHCR, the IRC began the Legal Assistance Center (LAC) project to promote the rule of law and access to justice for Burmese refugees in Thailand. The project has established Legal Assistance Centers serving approximately 60,000 refugees living in the three camps in northwestern Thailand. The centers help refugees take their grievances to the existing traditional justice system in the camp, or in serious criminal cases, outside the camps to the Thai justice system. The project is also developing the skills of the refugee leadership to resolve less serious issues, as well as training the general camp population on the law and their rights.
In two camps in Mae Hong Son, the IRC has established rape crisis teams and developed the first rape and domestic violence response protocols along the Thai-Burma border. The program also provides technical support and training of refugee staff to respond to and prevent sexual and domestic violence. In addition, IRC staff set up a referral system for rape and violence survivors with the regional hospital, as well as establishing safe shelters for women and children. Since the IRC started programs to address sexual violence in 2004, there has been a ten-fold increase in the number of rape and domestic violence cases reported to health and aid staff in the two camps, an indicator that women facing violence are now seeking assistance.
Preventing Sexual Abuse
In 2007, the IRC launched a program that cooperates with camp-based aid groups to prevent sexual abuse and exploitation in the Thai-Burma border refugee camps. In cooperation with the Committee for the Coordination of Services to Displaced Persons in Thailand, the project helps to create an environment where refugees are able to access services free of abuse and exploitation. It also prepares humanitarian agencies to respond to and prevent incidents from occurring. The program educates refugees about their rights, entitlements and the policy of zero-tolerance towards sexual abuse.
Helping Burmese Refugees Migrate to the U.S.
The IRC's Overseas Processing Entity (OPE) for Thailand and Southeast Asia opened in December 2005 to assist refugees seeking admission to the United States. The OPE coordinates all refugee processing activities in the region, including the preparation of refugee applications, facilitation of Department of Homeland Security interviews, medical screening and departure to the U.S. The office primarily assists refugees in Thailand but also conducts prescreening and DHS support missions to Malaysia, Singapore, Indonesia and other countries in Southeast Asia.