95,000 Burmese refugees live in Northwest Thailand
Over the last four decades, Thailand has made remarkable progress in social and economic development, with sustained growth and impressive poverty reduction. However, Thailand still presents some social and economic issues, in particular with regard to the large number of refugees hosted.
The situation of refugees in Thailand.
At present, approximately 92,000 refugees are living in nine camps on the Thai-Myanmar border, without taking into account those who are not registered as refugees in Thailand.
Most refugees belong to ethnic minorities, mainly Karen and Karenni, who have fled the conflicts between the Burmese Army and armed ethnic minority groups in Myanmar.
What are the living conditions in the refugee camps?
Most of the camps are overcrowded, hard to access due to their isolation in the mountains, far away from hospitals and some of them have no phone signal and electricity grid. The living conditions in the camps are extremely poor. Indeed, drinking water is collected from wells and streams, health care and education opportunities are extremely limited, and children suffer from chronic malnutrition and abuse.
Thailand ensures that the camps are safe, but does not allow refugees to work or leave. Therefore, refugees are heavily dependent on international aid for their food, building materials (limited to bamboo and timber), clothing, etc.
When I first saw a refugee camp at the frontier between Thailand and Myanmar, hundreds of tiny houses made of bamboo and leaves were next to each other along the road barbed wires. In this camp lives a young 17-year-old Burmese girl, the only one in her family attending school. At 10, she crossed the frontier illegally to meet her aunt and uncle in this refugee camp. It has been 7 years now and she hasn’t seen her family since. She says: “In a refugee camp, everyday life is more than just a life, it’s a fight.”
Our local partner, COERR, draw our attention to 500 children victims of severe maltreatment, sexual abuses and physical violence from adults who don’t have any job opportunities in those camps. The lack of hope to go back to their country, the lack of job opportunities and the lack of food easily lead them to drugs and alcohol. This results in extreme violence and children are often the first victims.
Urgent need of care for children in high risk of abuse
This project addresses the urgent need to respond to the high risk of abuse and denial of basic needs among children living in refugees’ camps along the Thai-Burma border.
Our local partner
Our local partner is COERR, which whom we have been working for the last 15 years. COERR is the branch of Caritas Thailand which looks after refugees and displaced people, particularly in the province of Tak, where they identified 190 cases of child abuse at the start of 2020. COERR is currently doing the most with the resources at their disposal, but there is an urgent need for further funding to respond to the complex situation. This project aims at giving 190 at-risk children the chance to:
- Find a placement in a foster family within the camp.
- Provide each foster family with an allowance to cover the extra costs such as food.
- Provide each family with training before the beginning of fostering.
How this will be carried out?
The COERR social workers have chosen three families in each camp, in whom they have complete trust, to take in one or more abused children for a period of a few months until solutions tailored to their needs can be found.
Today, COERR is the only Thai NGO active there, engaging in activities designed to increase respect for human dignity and to help children victims of abuse.
Thanks to the role played by COERR and Children of the Mekong, children at risk will be placed in a safer environment to build back themselves and live the childhood they deserve.
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