Category Archives: thailand

Rumours of relocation prompt Karen refugees to flee camp

Prachatai (a Thailand-based news organisation) reports:

After they heard from rangers guarding the Nong Bua temporary shelter that refugees would be relocated to another temporary shelter at Usutha on 8 March, 29 refugee families have fled the shelter.

For over a month, the refugees have waited for the authorities to solve the problem of ‘forced repatriation’.  Rumours from military personnel forced them to flee to other Thai-Karen villages, while some of them went back to Burma in order to sneak back into Thailand at other spots.

There had been 105 families at the Nong Bua shelter, until rumours starting in early March prompted 29 families to move out between 5 and 8 March.

Read more detail here.


Thatmadaw continues its attacks

The Thatrmadaw (Army of the “Myanmar” Government) continues the attacks begun in January on villages in Western Karen State. Seven battalions of troops are involved (c.130 men each, so nearly 1,000 soldiers). They force villagers from areas they control into service as porters and labourers, so the total effective manpower is higher. They have driven abvout twice their own number of villagers into hiding, burned their homes, and stollen their property. Children in hidie sites still go to school, and pregnant women still give birth. See the report from FBR dated 16th Feb 2010: Pictures and a Report from Karen State; A Mother Giving Birth in Hiding, Burned Homes.

Refugees speak for themselves

Several Thai-based blogs and websites have carried this letter to the Thai people. The letter expresses clearly these villagers desire to return home, but their realistic fears of both landmines and portering (which they clearly say is worse than forced labour – portering often results in death for the victim). 

The Last Letter from Karen refugees in Nong Bua and Usu Tha
Cross Border News Agency(16/02/2010 03:49 PM)

To the Thai people, via Cross-border News Agency,
Since 24/01/10 that the Cross-border News Agency started to circulate information relating to the coerced repatriation of Karen refugees in Nong Bua and Usu Thai temporary shelter on the Thai-Burma border to the Thai public, our stories have been discussed more in Thai media. From news and reports being monitored, we found that in fact, the Thai PM and authorities including Thai military have the very same stand with us; that is ‘refugees will be allowed in Thailand when there are still threats in their homeland. When the situation is better, they must go back.’

We definitely agreed. We only asked to take refuge in Thailand temporarily. We do not wish to continue living in Thailand when the threats are gone. Our intention is to go back home as soon as possible.

However, we and you may understand or see ‘the proper situation that is safe for return’ differently. In addition, we may understand the term ‘voluntary return’ differently from the Thai military that insisted some of us have returned to our homeland voluntarily.

Therefore, we would like to explain a few points via CBNA to Thai decision makers and public as follow;

About us

1. Although the refugees in Nong Bua and Usu Tha came to Thailand at the same time during lMay- June 2009, they are from different villages, with different past and current conditions and situations. Ler Por Hur is in KNU controlled area while others are in DKBA’s or in between. A decision from a person in a village regarding the possibility and readiness to return home cannot be interpreted to be decisions of all.

2. It is not the first time for numbers of people in this group to take refuge in Thailand. Every time we came, we went back quickly as soon as possible. The example is in December 2001 when Ler Por Hur was burnt down. We returned to build our new village within one month, when the Burmese and DKBA’s army went back. Yet this time the situation is different. Therefore we cannot go back home easily and quickly as in the past.

3. As refugees, we do not wish Thailand to bear the burden alone. We seek for international protection and responsibilities. Currently, assistances are from foreign humanitarian groups, and the UNHCR is ready to perform protection role if the Thai government allow it to do.

Regarding ‘safe condition for return’

1. For us, the safe condition is not only when the fighting ends by one party wins, and cannot be measured by the fact that one can stand in the area for a moment and is still alive. Safe condition for return means the conditions that we can go back to live normal lives safely. Our life-threatening danger include land mines, forced labors, forced portering and forced soldiers recruitment including the recruitment of child soldiers,

2. For the LPH villagers who lived close by the KNLA or the army of the KNU, land mine is the most dangerous threat. The Thai military’s notice that the villagers must have been familiar living with land mines is partly true, as we have been living in conflict area. But during the fighting in mid 2009, both conflict army have added a lot more land mines around and on the path to LPH,

3. The land mine threat in LPH also affected food security and daily lives. It will be a risk to farm, look for food in the forests, and even look for woods to replace our house and children’s bordering house poles, which were pulled out by DKBA in order to sell in Thailand. The Thai military’s comment that local people still travel between Thai and Burma side is true, as the Thai-Karen occasionally went to their tobacco garden and find food. However, they went only to some spot being known to be safe for a short time; and this is different from going to live there.

4. For refugees from other villages, land mine is not a big threat. Yet, many of us do not have confidence to go living under control of the DKBA, known to be an alliance of Burmese army. It is true as Thai military’s comment, that many of us had lived with DKBA before. Some people want to go home so much that they agree to bear forced labor and plan to flee back to Thailand if it becomes more threatening like forced portering or soldiers,

5. The most serious concern of refugees from these villages is the food scarcity. The refugees did not have a chance to work on their field for the past 7 months of refuge, while their stocks were taken or destroyed, therefore, there will be no food. To receive assistance from Thai side, they must stay in LPH, which is not safe as being mentioned. Moreover, part of the food will probably be taken by DKBA.

6. There is no certain and firm agreement between the KNLA and DKBA to ensure that we can be back safely with dignity. Before this, we lived with the agreement of the local agreement that both side will not harm each other. However, KNLA now might not be able to balance the agreement. Most importantly, we understand that to clear KNLA land mines in LPH without the presence of KNLA would not be possible as no one know where they are.

Regarding the voluntary return.

1. If refugees have to involuntarily return to their homeland, before the proper time, there will not be only losses for us but the fact will contribute to unsustainable return. They will come back to Thailand via other channels. The case of the 1995 forced repatriated Mon refugees who return to be migrant workers in Thailand is a good example,

2. For us, voluntary return must be based on the chance to freely exchanged information, the chance to have choices – although not varied, and the chance to freely decide with no pressure. Right now, those who decided to return did not go voluntarily; but being pressure to ‘choose’ so,

3. We did not have freedom to receive information about issues of concern. The trip led by Thai soldiers that brought some of us to see only inside LPH village, where houses are but not around them, was not enough to ensure that the place was safe; we had to follow the soldiers who walked only on certain tracks with fear of land mines. Moreover, communication between refugees and outsiders are restricted. For instance, the head villager of …. village that gave information to outsiders consequently was threatened by soldiers until he fled to somewhere else, and there was an incident on February the 5th that the soldiers took away a cellphone of a teacher in Nong Bua,

4. We did not given information that we had choices at all. We were told only that we would not be able to continue to stay. The UNHCR that once came to interview whether we wanted to move to Mae La camp or go home was stop by the Thai soldiers with an explanation that the existing refugee camp was not a choice for us.

5. The villagers felt pressured from being asked everyday when they would go back, by being informed that they had to go back no matter what and that there would be no further food assistance, and on Saturday Feb 13th, by being acknowledged that they would be taken to a far away refugee camp in Umpang district and that they should not repair their roof and toilet because they would have to leave soon. Due to these facts, a number of people agreed to go back home, thinking that it could be better than staying unaccepted. Many went back with a plan to come back to Thailand, and many who have left actually went to stay with relatives in other villages in Thailand.

We would like to thank Thailand that provide us a place fore taking refuge during our hard times. We do not wish the Thai government to treat us specially, but only according to humanitarian basis and the universal principle of voluntary return with safety and dignity. Therefore, we would like to request, as follow;

1. that the Thai government and military to understand the complicated situation as we have explained, and stop all pressures while canceling the name list of those who ‘agreed’ to return being compiled by Thai soldiers and allow UNHCR freely conduct interview process, with participation of the Thai authorities and which can be openly monitored by Thai civil society and media,

2. that after the interviews were done, let UNHCR, humanitarian NGOs and Thai authorities facilitated the safe return for those who wish to go back home, with proper assistance. The process should be opened for Thai civil society and media monitoring,

3. For those who will definitely return but not now, allow UNHCR and NGOs to facilitate the plan and possible conditions, including timeframe, for return. Before the return, allow them to continue staying in the current place temporarily. The standard of treatment must be equal to the refugees in the camp and there shall be regular assessment of the conditions with participation of refugees and concerned parties,

4. For the refugees who cannot go back home within a short time ;possibly some people from LPH, they should be allowed to live in Mae La refugee camp under administration of MOI.

We are hoping DKBA and KNLA will reach an agreement that benefits the people soon, especially about land mine clearance. We also hope that the Thai people will understand that as long as there are persecutions and civil war in Burma, our return, although voluntarily, might not be fully sustained as the violence might spread back to this area any time.

With respect,

A group of refugees from Nong Bua and Usu Tha

**** This letter was typed and edited by Tiwa Phromsupa to the Cross Border News Agency. The contents are from her refugee friends who want to communicate to Thai society.

Karen Human Rights Group report

The KHRG in a documented report lays out the sort of dangers and human rights violations the refugees in Tha Song Yang District, Tak Province, would face if returned to the area around their former homes. (It was dated 27th Jan but I have only just seen it.) I YOU have not yet written to the Thai government (why not?) you might add a mention of this report. It concludes:

Returning refugees thus face serious risk of injury by landmines. Returned refugees would also face human rights abuses including conscription as forced labourers working on military projects, portering supplies and clearing landmines as well as reprisals against them as accused KNLA supporters. For these reasons, no refugees from the Ler Per Her area should be forced to repatriate against their will. Moreover, refugees should be included in any future negotiations regarding repatriation or relocation.

Fauna at Mae La: Barbara’s first solo post

Not "our" frog, who was bigger and fatter, but a reasonable substitute, from Spiros2004

Things were quite different at the camp, from our first trip, regarding animal life. Tim saw a small snake in the loos one night, and I saw a dead mouse on two evenings in the inside toilet.   Not very appealing but at least it was dead. Of more concern was the extensive noise of rats in the space between the roof and the tarpaulin “ceiling”. Much more than 2008, and increasing during the 3 weeks we were there. Our Danish colleagues saw a very large rat in their room so we did quite well, but hard to sleep with rustling and other noises from them and the geckos . Quite a few geckos too. One kind frequent in Mae Sot and Klee Thoo Clo which goes “gee-ko” was not so apparent but lots of other ones were seen reguIarly.

It doesn’t do any good to get too upset by these things, but I was glad not to meet any frogs until the very last night, and although unlikely to be the same one as 2 years ago, was in nearly the same place and enormous! On the bright side, only one cockroach was seen. Lots more mosquitoes though and I got badly bitten as usual so the routine of late afternoon wash, change into long wrap and apply insect repellent helped.

One morning at prayers we were told the mosquito sprayers were coming that day. For some reason they did not, maybe they’ve been after we left, I hope so as there are already cases of malaria and dengue in the camp. There were fewer cats than last time which may explain the rats, but I am very grateful our overall experience of the wildlife was not too unpleasant.

Recent refugees face pressure to return: Urgent action needed

These recent refugees currently live in two small camps in this wild and beautiful area north of Mae La

The Burma Campaign UK reports that the Thai authorities are threatening to force the return starting on 5 February 2010 of the 3,000 Karen refugees who fled to an area north of Mae La in June following a military offensive by the Burmese Army in Karen State, Eastern Burma.

The area they would return to is under the “control” of the DKBA and heavily mined they would face mass torture, harrying by military forces and many deaths if forced to return.

Although the Thai Government and local authorities have officially stated that they will not force people to return, in practice they are applying significant pressure on the refugees to return.

Until now the refugees have been kept in two temporary camps close to the Thailand-Burma border. Many of these refugees have already been forced to flee their homes four or more times.

If forced to return to Burma, the refugees face possible death, slave labour or forced recruitment as soldiers.

The area in Karen State where the refugees would be made to return to has many landmines. In addition, the area is now under the control of the DKBA, an organisation allied to the military dictatorship, which is guilty of committing horrific human rights abuses against civilians, including widespread use of forced labour, executions, torture and mutilations, forced recruitment of soldiers, including child soldiers, theft and extortion.

So PLEASE write to the Thai authorities to urge them not to force the refugees back to Burma. There is a simple form you can use here:

I have already written, editing the form letter in the hope that this will make it weigh more, but simply adding your name and address and clicking send is all that’s needed. If the Thai authorities realise that many people outside care enough to post an email they may see this issue as one that impacts their tourist industry!

Transport in Thailand: Buses

Private buses are often highly decorative (Photo by Marshall Astor - Food Pornographer)

For travel between towns in Thailand, unless you spot a great deal on Air Asia, it is hard to beat the buses. We’ve tried just about every variety:

  • second class overnight
  • intercity stopping bus
  • first class
  • VIP Government bus
  • VIP cheaper sleeper
  • VIP privatised sophisticated
  • Mini Bus

Second class "Government Buses" are more basic (Same source)

All provide cheap efficient transport from one place to another, with enough loo and/or food stops. Most of the time, if you pay more, you get what you pay for, greater comfort, speed or extras (like on board loos, air-conditioning, blankets, drinks etc.). The mini buses will even stop pretty much on demand for loos or refreshment at the next roadside vendor’s. However, for daytime travel the stopping bus’s slower speed allows you to see more of real life in Thailand. Paying more also makes the journey seem more reliable. Our stopping bus sometimes seemed about to run out finally, though every time the driver and his assistant with the threat of the proverbial “flipping big spanner” managed to coax another 50Kms out of the old girl. As we reported two years back the second class overnight did break down once (until half the passengers got off and walked up the hill to relieve the load), and had its brakes catch fire. Despite this we still arrived only a little late, and the other buses were on time, every time. One bus even left early, since all the passengers were already aboard 🙂

There are two sorts of Bus station, those (like this one) where buses are boarded, and country ones where meal and loo stops are made (Photo by Jeremy Burgin)

The food/loo stops on night buses can seem rushed, we would not want to shovel down a meal of soup that fast, but then we chose the alternative drinks. Either way, you show your tickets (which are torn to invalidate them) and get your goodies. On day buses you pay for any refreshments at the loo stops, vendors do a roaring trade in sticky rice and kebabs in convenient plastic bags.

Ticketing is computerised, and you can buy your ticket (and book your seat) in advance, if they refuse to sell ahead of time it probably means that the buses are already full and they are not sure if extra ones will be put on – that was how we got our second class sleeper that broke down. On one occasion a language breakdown gave us a long delay before the VIP bus left, when a stopping bus arrived to leave several hours earlier (even though on a different company) we were able to cancel and redeem our tickets and grab the alternative.

The whole operation is a huge industry with many many hundreds of buses arriving at the Northern Bus Terminal in Bangkok every morning at 4:30-5:00am. The bus stations in larger places can also provide several hours of entertainment as you watch the world go by (or, like you, wait to go). All the bus stations are well equipped with seats and snack outlets, the loos are OK and only 3 Bhat, though they may seem a bit grubby, the number of times we paddled through recently swabbed floors suggests a strong ethos of cleanliness.