14. The Situation of Refugees


14.1 Background

According to the US Committee for Refugees, there are more than 450,000 Burmese refugees and asylum seekers in countries neighboring Burma. Driven out by the ruling military regimes unrelenting policies and practices that violate their human rights, refugees and aylum seekers have fled to Thailand, Bangladesh, India and Malaysia. The human rights abuses committed by the SPDC include forced relocations, rape, forced labor, torture, the confiscation of land and property, arbitrary arrest and lack of personal security. As the SPDC continues to try and eliminate all resistance forces, particularly in ethnic areas, they attempt to expand military control over the population through mass forced relocation programs. There are currently over 1 million internally displaced people who have the potential to become cross-border refugees in times of increased military conflict.

In Thailand, there are over 144,000 refugees, the majority of whom are from Karen, Karenni, Mon, and Shan ethnic groups. At the same time, there are more than 1 million migrant workers in Thailand who flee to Thailand for many of the same reasons as refugees. A new trend is more ethnic Burmese leaving Burma from both urban and rural areas in family groups. They usually become migrant workers and leave Burma due to forced labor, heavy taxation, corruption, inability to maintain an adequate standard of living and interference with their livelihood through the theft or confiscation of land, property and livestock.

In 1992 over 250,000 Rohingyas fled religious persecution in Arakan State to take refuge in Bangladesh. While most have been repatriated, there are still over 21,500 Rohingya refugees in the two remaining refugee camps as well as over 100,000 who are living and working among the Bangladeshi communities. Rohingyas have also fled to Malaysia while the refugee population in India consists mostly of Chin people.

The Refugee Convention states that refugee protection rests on the principle of non-refoulement, which dictates that no refugee should be returned to any country where he or she is likely to face persecution on grounds of race, religion, nationality, political opinion or membership of a particular social group. This principle has been repeatedly violated by the governments of Bangladesh, India and Thailand, who continue to forcibly repatriate refugees back to areas where their safety cannot be guaranteed. 

14.2 Situation in Thailand

Refugee Demographics in 2002

The Burma Border Consortium (BBC) reported that there were 144,358 refugees in Thailand at the end of 2002. The population increased by 6,241 from the end of 2001. For the past three years, the average rate of arrival has been approximately 800 per month. Yet, from July to December, this figure decerased to approximately 411 per month.The decrease in arrivals has not been attributed to an improvement in the human rights situation in Burma. The SPDC continues to engage in activities that violate the human rights of the population in Burma on a regular basis. According to the BBC, the lower numbers could be the result of an unusually long and heavy rainy season, which may have inhibited migration. The lower numbers reflect the fact that escaping Burma and entering the camps in Thailand has become increasingly difficult for potential refugees. Thai policy to accept only those "fleeing fighting" has been strictly maintained, and authorities have ordered camp committees not to allow any increase in camp populations. In order to avoid both SPDC patrols and notice by the Thai Authorities, refugees have begun to split up and arrive to the camps in smaller numbers. When they do arrive, many decide not to register themselves for fear that they will be sent back across the border. BBC estimates that there are at least 1,500 new arrivals in the camps who have not been recorded. If this is the case, then the actual rate of arrivals in camps in Thailand was around 1,200 per month, which is consistent with previous years. (Source: BBC)

The breakdown by age and sex reported by the Karen, Mon and Karenni Committees in December 2002 was as follows: 

* For Karen and Mon, this is over 12 years old, for Karenni over 14 years old.

(Source: BBC (6)Month Report: June–Dec 2002)

Thai Government Policy Towards Refugees

Thailand is the one of the main destinations for political dissidents, ethnic minorities and all other groups suffering under the control of the SPDC military regime. Yet in Thailand, refugees face a lack of protection because Thai government policies largely do not adhere to international norms and standards. Thailand is not a party to the 1951 United Nations Convention on the Status of Refugees (Refugee Convention), the main international treaty for the protection of refugees, and lacks an adequate legal framework for determining refugee status. The Thai government’s attitude towards the refugees is based on the belief that any assistance offered by NGOs and the UNHCR serves as a ‘pull’ factor to encourage refugees to enter Thailand and a deterrent to their eventual repatriation. Since 1992, the government has maintained a policy towards the refugees that rests on several key components, which include:

* Only allowing Burmese to cross into Thailand if they are fleeing active fighting, and denying entry or forcibly repatriating those refugees who are fleeing systematic human rights abuses;

* Locating refugee camps in areas too close to the border to be considered secure;

* Severely limiting the role of UNHCR;

* Working to promote cease-fire agreements between the ethnic insurgents and the Burmese government as a way of solving the refugee problem. (Source: HRW)

Thai policy towards the refugees is further complicated by the country’s shifting and sometimes contradictory strategic and economic interests in Burma and the state of Thailand’s diplomatic relations with Burma. During 2002, the Thai government was accused of putting economic interests and appeasing the military junta ahead of humanitarian concerns and national security. In May 2002, fighting between the Shan State Army (SSA) and the SPDC/United Wa State Party (UWSP) resulted in a conflict with the Thai Army engaging in military exercises in the area. The SPDC accused the Thai Army of aiding the opposition forces of the SSA, while the Thai Army insisted that the fighting had entered Thai territory. The SPDC reacted with an intense media and propaganda campaign slandering the Thai government and monarchy while simultaneously closing the border. The border remained closed until October 2002. During that time, all bilateral trade ceased and Thailand suffered $113.7 million in trade loses. Despite Deputy Prime Minister Chavalit’s expressions of distress and admonishments to the SPDC for their displays of disrespect to the Thai monarchy, the Thai Army was instructed not to get involved with further border skirmishes. In addition, on 4 July 2002, the Thai National Security Council issued a directive to restrict and closely monitor all Burmese opposition and pro-democracy groups working on the border. This directive was followed by a crackdown on opposition groups in August 2002, which included raids of organizations, arrests and deportation of several political activists.

In December 2002, the Thai government was criticized again for bending to the wishes of the SPDC when they led another crackdown on Burmese dissident groups. Not only were organizations in Sangklaburi, Mae Hong Song, and Chiang Mai raided, but in Sangklaburi landlords were instructed not to rent to Burmese political activists or they would be considered to be harboring illegal immigrants. As a result of the crackdown, many pro-democracy organizations reduced their activities in locations all along the border and others went into hiding. Arrests of Burmese dissident activists continued into January 2003, when 7 more were arrested in Sangklaburi. Files, office materials and personal belongings were confiscated by the Thai authorities when offices were raided. The Thai government insists that these crackdowns were an attempt to protect Thai interests and promote better relations with neighboring countries. Furthermore, Thailand has continually stressed that it will not allow foreign opposition groups working against neighboring countries to operate on Thai soil (source: UN Burma Service Office). On 29 December 2002, this sentiment was clearly punctuated by Thai National Security Council Chief Gen Winai Phattiyakhul who publicly stated that Thailand would stop welcoming and sheltering refugees from political conflicts, instead "from now on, we will force them to go back to where they came from. Thailand will not welcome refugees from neighboring countries anymore."(Source: The Nation)

Moreover, at the sixth meeting of the Thai-Burmese Joint Commission in January 2002, the Thai government reiterated its desire to repatriate the 144,358 refugees living along the border. While, the two governments agreed on most other components of their meeting, the questions of refugees remained unsettled. The government of Burma felt that there must be a clear definition of those who are displaced and must be repatriated. Thailand wants to repatriate all the Burmese refugees and close the camps. Officially, Thai policy does not allow for any new arrivals or increases in the refugee camp populations. The reality is that refugees are continuing to flee from Burma because the situation of human rights abuses has not abated.

Many prominent members of the international community disagree with the Thai government’s contention that the presence of the camps and some limited assistance ‘encourages’ people to come to Thailand as refugees. Instead there is overwhelming evidence that people flee to Thailand as a last resort, to escape an intolerable situation of systematic SPDC abuses. The majority of people arriving in refugee camps have previously been living on the run as IDPs inside Burma. It is estimated that in the last 5 years, as many as one million people have been victims of SPDC village relocations, with hundreds of thousands of people displaced and forced to live in resettlement sites, or in hiding, constantly moving to escape SPDC troops. Throughout 2002 the Burmese military continued to root out IDPs, destroying their food supplies, and torturing and killing those they could catch. When a community had been ordered to relocate, SPDC troops returned repeatedly to prevent people from re-establishing their homes. The Burmese Border Consortium estimates that there are 268,067 IDP living in hiding inside Tenasserim Division, Mon State, Karen State, Karenni State, and Shan State, all of whom are potential refugees. There are many other IDPs who are living in over 176 resettlement areas controlled by the SPDC, where they are frequently conscripted for forced labor and forced portering, as well as subjected to many other abuses (please see the chapter on forced labor for more information). A large number of people living in these areas also attempt to flee to Thailand.

New asylum seekers face great obstacles coming to Thailand. The Provincial Admission Boards (PABs), who handle the cases of new asylum seekers, stopped meeting in 2002 and therefore did not examine any new cases. While they were meeting, the PABs only considered those who were fleeing from direct fighting in border areas. This is despite the fact that in the 1998 working arrangements worked out between Thailand and the UNHCR, it was noted that people fleeing "the effects of fighting," should also be given consideration. UNHCR’s statistics show that 33,427 persons have sought admission to Thailand from May 1999 to December 2002. Of these, 11,731 were accepted as refugees (35%), while 10,408 were rejected (31%) and 11,288 (34%) are still waiting for a decision to be made regarding their status. UNHCR has stated that they believe that the 10,408 rejected cases have a legitimate fear of persecution if they return to Burma and they are appealing the decision to repatriate these individuals. Currently 5,541 of these cases have been reconfirmed as rejected with 330 people already repatriated.(Source: BBC)

Situation in the Camps

Despite Thai policy, which does not allow any new refugee arrivals, Burmese refugees continue to arrive to all the refugee camps located along the Thai-Burma border. Thai policy has caused new arrivals not to register their presence in fear of being sent back to Burma. Therefore, overcrowding and inadequate food supplies are a continued problem. Most refugees are dependent upon humanitarian aid for their total food supply. Leaving the camps is dangerous as refugees face arrest and harassment from local communities.

In recent years, as refugees have become more aid dependent due to restrictions on their movement, nutritional intake has been impacted. Refugees receive a basic food basket of rice, salt, yellow beans, oil and fish paste from relief agencies, and in the past were able to supplement their diets by foraging, cultivating vegetables, raising livestock, growing crops on land held by opposition groups and purchasing other needed items with wages from seasonal work in Thailand. As the self-sufficiency of refugees has declined, due to tightened security in Thailand and the loss of land to the Burmese army, relief organizations have gone from providing 50 percent of staple diet needs in 1984 to providing 100 percent by the mid 1990s. A food consumption/nutrition status survey carried out by the BBC in Umpiem Mai, Tham Hin, Ban Don Yang in 2002 and in Mae La and Karenni Camp 2 in 2001, indicated that refugees are almost solely dependent on BBC rations for food supplies. Despite the fact that most refugees living in Mae La and Karenni Camp 2 have been in Thailand for a considerable amount of time, they are very poor. The BBC survey indicated that the average monthly expenditure for food is about 55-70 Baht per family. Because the refugees do not have the proper income to supplement their rations or because refugees are sharing their rations with those who are unregistered and do not receive any, most refugees suffer from chronic malnutrition. The BBC study showed that as a result of poor living conditions, frequent infection, and a diet lacking in animal protein and micronutrients, low-level, chronic malnutrition is prevalent among children in the camp. The survey indicated that the acute malnutrition rate for children averaged at 4.9%. According to the World Health Organization, under 5% is acceptable. (Source: BBC)

In March 2002, the BBC was instructed that in the future it must only send food supplies for the registered camp population of 108,000, as determined by the UNHCR and the Ministry of the Interior (MOI). BBC was also notified that they would not be permitted to feed new arrivals in the future. If this policy is implemented, the BBC would reduce their supplies by 15% which would lead to insufficient nutrition in the camps. This policy was not enforced through the year. (Source: CCSDPT Open Session, April 10, 2002)

Thailand does not permit the refugees to build permanent structures, therefore most homes and buildings are built with materials that are obtained locally such as bamboo and wood. Most homes are not durable and suffer from damage each rainy season. On 2 September 2002, heavy rains resulted in a flash flood and mudslide in Mae Khon Kha camp near Mae Hong Song. 27 refugees died and 484 buildings, homes, schools, churches, and NGO offices were either damaged or destroyed. Thai authorities initially blamed the refugees for the flood, insisting that illegal logging activities carried out by the refugees caused the mudslide. The Thai authorities and forestry services have been pointing their fingers at the refugees as the cause of deforestation in areas local to the camps and started to impose restrictions on cutting bamboo in 1997. These restrictions have increased through the years and in 2002, it was reported that the sale of bamboo to refugees was barred in some areas. As a result, refugees rely on humanitarian organizations such as BBC, to supply building materials as well. (Source: BBC & Irrawaddy )

Environmental degradation caused by the refugees was highlighted as one of the main reasons for the relocation of Karenni Camp 3 to Karenni Camp 2 on 4 July 2002. The Mae Hong Son governor’s office indicated that other reasons for the move included refugee conflict with local inhabitants as well as theft of local crops and belongings. Forum Asia, a Thai NGO, criticized the relocation emphasizing that a greater number of individuals would be in danger of death or injury as Karenni Camp 2 is closer to the border and often subject to attacks by the SPDC. Despite these concerns, the Thai authorities moved forward with their relocation plan and moved almost all families by the end of the year with approximately 921 refugees remaining at the Karenni Camp 3 site. The remaining group includes the Kayan or long necks and handicapped refugees. The Kayan are considered a tourist attraction and therefore may not be moved at all. (Source: CCSDPT Open Session July 10, 2002 & BBC)

On 19 March, the camp commander of Mae La camp and local Thai authorities met and announced that the unregistered camp population of 7,000 had the choice to voluntarily repatriate or to be forcibly repatriated. A 600 Baht stipend was offered to those who volunteered before the end of March. After 1 April, the remaining unregistered population would be forcibly repatriated. 109 people volunteered. The UNHCR and NGOs did not have access to consult with any of the 109 refugees.

The decision to forcibly repatriate the unregistered population coincided with fighting on the Burma side of the border near Mae La. The UNHCR was successfully able to receive guarantee from Thai authorities in Bangkok that the repatriation would be delayed until the fighting abated. (Source: CCSDPT OPEN SESSION, April 10, 2002) 

Situation of Women in Refugee Camps

Most refugees in camps live in family units, either arriving as such or reuniting after separate arrivals. The ratio of males to females is 51:49 and there are relatively few single mothers. The average family size is 5.4 people. Nearly 6% of households are headed by single women. Women tend to be under-represented in the committees that organize the day-to-day administration of the camps, but are active in areas such as teaching, health care work and home visits to gather information about the daily routine of refugees. Obstacles to increased participation of women in camp administration are lack of education and basic knowledge about their rights. There are various women’s groups in all the camps, some focusing on the daily needs and welfare of women and some on the more political aspects of women’s rights. (Source: BBC)

The majority of refugee women come from ethnic minority groups and suffer from a wide range of human rights violations prior to arrival in the camps. Ethnic minority women living in conflict areas are used as forced labor on infrastructure projects and forced porters for the military, are subject to the constant threat of rape and have virtually no personal security. Conditions in the camps vary from place to place, but women have generally suffered from the recent tighter restrictions on movement outside the camps and have seen their ability to be self-sufficient decline. The conditions of refugee women strongly effect children, of whom women are the primary caregivers.

Two girls at Karenni Camp 2 raped by Thai soldiers

"On 17 March, two refugee women from Camp 2, aged 15 and 20, reported that they had been raped by Thai soldiers while foraging for food outside the camp. The rapes were witnessed by two women aged 41 and 35, as well as an eight-year-old girl. One of the witnesses was held at knife point while the attack took place. The alleged perpetrators were three soldiers temporarily assigned to Mae Hong Son for the royal visit and had apparently been transferred very soon after the incident. The attack was reported by the camp leader to the police in the Thai village of Nai Soi that same day and on March 22, the women filed a report with the police in Mae Hong Son town. On March 27, both the victims and the witnesses made a statement to the police. On March 28 the victims and witnesses were asked to return to the police station in Mae Hong Son for a photo identification. On arrival they were fined Bt100 per person, apparently for leaving the camp. The 15 year-old was then shown photos of such poor quality that she was unable to see the faces. Also on March 28, the KNPP and the Karenni women’s group were approached by representatives of the district office and the military, who offered compensation if charges were withdrawn.

The military repeatedly visited the camp asking to speak to the victims, but were prevented from harassing them by the Karenni women’s group and the camp committee. Despite the intimidation tactics and following a meeting with lawyers from the Thai Law Society on April 8, the victims decided to continue with the legal process. The two lawyers had also met with the governor and the Nai Amphur and received assurances that the women would be safe. UNHCR had raised the incident with high level officials at MOI and had received assurances that Thai law would be followed in dealing with this incident. UNHCR would continue to closely monitor the case. As of May, the Thai military had expelled the three soldiers and they were placed in Mae Hong Son prison to awiat their trial. (Source: CCSDPT OPEN SESSION, April 10, 2002)

Situation of Refugee Children

Although the decision to flee one’s home is usually made by adults, children are deeply affected by the situation. The physical dangers for children during flight are immense. They are threatened by landmines, shelling, sudden attacks and their health is put at severe risk due to long days of walking without adequate food and water. They become malnourished and their resistance to diseases, such as malaria, is lowered. Unaccompanied children are vulnerable to neglect, military recruitment, sexual assault and other types of abuse. Children also suffer greatly from the emotional effects of fleeing their homes. They leave behind friends, relatives, possessions and established social structures and witness the fear and uncertainty felt by adult authority figures. This is in addition to the their exposure to the factors that caused their flight to begin with, such as the killing, torture, rape and use of forced labor of their family and community members. All of this, along with shortages of basic resources, can lead to harmful effects of the physical, psychological and social development of refugee children.

Situation of Karen Refugees

The Karen, like the other ethnic minority groups, have settlements on both sides of the Thai/Burma border. With an estimated population of between 3 and 4 million, they are one of the largest ethnic minority groups in Burma. The majority of Karen support and consider themselves represented by the KNU and its army, the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA). Large numbers of Karen refugees began crossing from Burma in 1984, and since that time they have received assistance from the KNU-linked, Karen Relief Committee (KRC). At the end of 1994, 400 former KNLA soldiers left to form the break away Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA). They claimed that KNLA Christian commanders had persecuted Buddhist KNLA soldiers. The split was partly engineered by the SPDC as part of their ‘divide and rule’ strategy, and since 1994 the DKBA troops have attacked Karen camps inside the Thai border, sometimes in cooperation with the Burmese military.

According to the CCSDPT, the situation in Karen State is acutely deteriorating, particularly over the last 5 years. The human rights abuses committed in Karen State include "attacks on villagers, pastors, and even monks, destruction of villages and increases in IDP’s, forced labor, rape, murder and massacres, which in several cases involved children. " (Source: CCSDPT Open Session, July 10, 2002)

Situation of Karenni Refugees

In 1989 the small and relatively lowly populated Karenni state had four separate armed groups. In the early 1990s two of these groups signed cease-fire agreements with the SPDC, which left the two larger groups, the Karenni Nationalities People’s Liberation Front (KNPLF) and the Karenni National Progressive Party (KNPP) continuing their armed struggle against the Burmese government. In 1992, as a result of mass forced relocations carried out by the SPDC (then SLORC) in their area of operations, the KNPLF was forced into agreeing to a cease-fire agreement. As the situation remained insecure, most people who had fled the area did not return. The KNPP also signed a cease-fire with the Burmese government in March 1995, but by June SLORC troops had violated the agreement and it was discarded. In 1996 the Burmese military began a large-scale forced relocation program in areas they perceived as sympathetic to the KNPP. By the end of March 1998 there were 12,500 Karenni refugees in Thailand, and today there are over 20,000. (Sources: BBC & HRW).

Situation of Mon Refugees

The Mon have been struggling for autonomy since 1948 led by the New Mon State Party (NMSP) and its armed wing, the Mon National Liberation Army. There are nearly 2 million Mon people. When Mon refugees began to flee to Thailand in growing numbers, the NMSP, like the KNU, formed their own organization, the Mon National Relief Committee, to coordinate assistance to the refugees. In June 1995 the NMSP signed a ceasefire treaty with the Burmese military, which enabled them to retain their arms within a few areas in Mon state. The agreement also mandated that Mon refugees in Thailand be repatriated, which was done the following year. The newly repatriated refugees however remained afraid to return to their homes, and instead established new camps in NMSP-controlled territories. Currently these individuals remain internally displaced within Burma, while a further 13,000 remain in camps in Thailand. (Sources: BBC & HRW) 

In late 2001, fighting broke out between the NMSP and the Hongsawatoi Restoration Party (HRP), a breakaway group from the NMSP, with the SPDC. As a result of the fighting, the sitatuation of the Mon resettlement sites was tenuous throughout 2002 and the refugees faced new obtacles in obtaining proper food. In conjunction with the fighting, new landmines were laid making farming and foraging exceedingly dangerous. In the first half of 2002, on two different occassions, groups of refugees tried to flee the fighting in the Halochanee site and enter Thailand. On both occassions, the refugees were held at the border by the Thai authorities and sent back once the hostilities had subsided. By the end of 2002, the HRP began to move away from the Halochanee area and to break apart. Many members of HRP defected back to the NMSP. (Source: BBC)  

Situation of Pa-O Refugees

The Pa-O live primarily in the Taunggyi area of southwestern Shan State. A smaller number live in the Thaton area of Mon State in Lower Burma. The Pa-O in the Thaton area have largely become "Burmanized" and like their neighbors the Mon and Karen, they have adopted Burmese language, dress and customs. The Pa-O in southwestern Shan State have learned to speak Shan, but have maintained their own distinct language and customs.

Forced relocation programs carried out by the SPDC have been particularly sweeping in Mon, Karen and Shan States, the states where most of the Pa-O live. The Pa-O Nationalist Army signed a ceasefire with SLORC in 1991, but because the Pa-O live in many of the areas where other rebel groups are still active they have been swept up in the forced relocations and human rights abuses for which the ruling junta has become infamous. (Source: Pa-O Human Rights Watch)

Situation of Shan Refugees

Shan State is the largest ethnic minority state in Burma, and one of the most ethnically diverse. Aided by Shan armed groups, for decades Khun Sa, the notorious drug warlord, ran his drug production operations in Shan State and along the Thai border. The Shan are the largest ethnic group in Shan state, and their language and culture is closely related to Thailand’s. Because of this, many Shan people have been able to find temporary seasonal work across the border when fighting or economic factors made it difficult to survive in Shan State. However due to their prevalence as migrant laborers, and more importantly the large amount of illegal drugs produced in Shan state, Thailand has consistently refused to recognize any Shan people as refugees, instead labeling them ‘economic migrants.’

In January 1996 Khun Sa officially surrendered to the Burmese government, and Burmese troops launched a major relocation program trying to extinguish the remaining Shan armed groups. Lack of refugee status became a major concern, as tens of thousands of Shans fled across the border from a forced relocation campaign that disrupted the lives of over 300,000 people. By the end of 1997, the three Shan opposition armies had reportedly joined forces to create the Shan States Army (SSsA). At the beginning of 1998 fighting broke out near the Thai border between the SSsA and Burmese military troops. It is estimated that up to 150,000 Shan refugees have entered Thailand since 1996. (Source: SHRF)

According to BBC, Shan refugees continued to flee Burma and arrivals in Fang district alone reached a rate of approximately 1,200 people each month in 2002. Forced relocation in central Shan State from 1996-98 as well as resettlement of Wa people from northern Shan State to Shan lands, which commenced in 1999, has been the cause of many people’s flight to Thailand. According to a report released by the Lahu National Development Organization in April 2002, nearly 48 000 people have been displaced as result of the relocation of 126 000 people to Shan occupied areas. The majority of the Shan people who have fled Burma live in the fields and orchards of Chiang Mai, Chiang Rai, and Mae Hong Son provinces. Most are able to survive on the meager wages of seasonal work. NGOs are largely prohibited from providing them with any assistance as these people continue to be denied recognition as refugees by the Thai government. As a result, access to health care is minimal, and children have little opportunity for education. Without any official status, Shan people in Thailand are subject to abuse by their employers and frequent arrest and detention. A health concern for Shan refugees is their unprotected exposure to pesticides in the orange orchards where they live and work. (Source: BBC)

Shan refugees also settle in one of the two unofficial refugee camps located along the border. The camp populations range from 2-3 000. The camp locations are close to areas where the SSA is carrying out anti-drug operations and continuing its opposition against SPDC/Wa troops. In these areas the situation remains very volatile and insecure. If there is an SPDC/Wa attack, the refugees in these camps would almost certainly have to flee into Thailand.

In May 2002, 600 Shan refugees fled to Wiang Heng district Thailand as a result of the fighting between the SSA and SPDC/Wa troops. The group took shelter in Nong Korkham and Mak Kayon temples in Wiang Haeng district, Thailand. Those who did not flee were reportedly killed, tortured, imprisoned, or forcibly relocated to Nakawngmu. While the Thai authorities did allow the refugees access to Thai health care, the Thai government denied the group’s application to stay permanently in a camp and planned to repatriate as soon as the SPDC finished their offensive against the SSA. As of the end of 2002, the group was still in Wiang Heng and supported by supplies from the BBC. (Source: Bangkok Post & BBC) 

Timeline of Major Refugee Related Events on the Thai/Burma Border in 2002


On 7-9 January, the Sixth meeting of the Thai-Burmese Joint Commission was held for the first time in two years. The meeting concluded without an agreement as to how the two countries will deal with the 100,000 displaced Burmese living along the Thai Burma border. Thailand expressed its desire to repatriate all the refugees with the help of a third party monitor to ensure their safe return and relocation. Burma indicated that the two parties needed to define "displaced". (Source: The Nation) 

In January, it was reported that 963 new Shan refugees fled forced relocation areas in central Shan State, particularly Keng Tung area, where the SPDC was utilizing forced labor for urbanization projects. The refugees fled to Fang district, Thailand. (Source: CCSDPT OPEN SESSION February 13, 2002)


On 6 February, it was reported that six Shan refugees were robbed and killed by SPDC soldiers at Nong Ook. The group, which included two women and one child, were about to cross the border when the incident occurred. (Source: CCSDPT OPEN SESSION February 13, 2002) 

On 10 February, one DKBA and two SPDC battalions moved out of Papun and were expected to attack the area of Wygee, targetting the IDPs in the area. In response to the build up of the SPDC and the coming offensive, the Thai authorities had an increased surveillance and presence in the border area. (Source: CCSDPT OPEN SESSION February 13, 2002) 

On 15 February, all villages on the Burmese side of the border near Mae La camp were ordered to relocate to an area near Tha Song Yang by the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA). (Source: CCSDPT Open Session March, 13, 2002) 

In February, it was reported that the Shan population of Mae Fah Luang grew to 1200 people, an increase of 300. The growth was attributed to the augmented SPDC military presence and Wa presence in southern Shan State. (Source: CCSDPT Open Session March, 13, 2002)

In February, it was reported that the SPDC set up "Guerrilla Retaliations Units" in the mountains of Toungoo district, Northern Karen State. "These units had a notorious reputation for brutality and execution of villagers suspected of past or present contact with the resistance. Construction had recommenced on three unfinished roads using both convict and forced labour. The army camp in Toungoo was now up and running and, in line with the plan to promote tourism in the area, a hotel had been built and an amusement park was planned." (Source: CCSDPT Open Session, February 13, 2002)


On March 3, it was reported that a landmine went off near Mae Or Pa Lu, a village on the border with Thailand. The landmine was laid in a tree in area that villagers regularly come to gather herbs and vegetables. One woman was killed and several others were injured. Many villagers felt that the mine was a message that they should not go over to the Burmese side of the Moei River. (Source: CCSDPT Open Session March, 13, 2002)

On 9 March, it was reported that 2,000 people were forcibly relocated from three different villages in Duplaya, Karen State. The people were taken to perform forced labor to build a new car road to Three Pagodas Pass. The SPDC burned down Htee Ku Hta village, which was situated along the Irrawaddy River. The SPDC also killed seven people from a family and a villager walking in his field. Afterwhich, it was reported that the number of IDPs living in the Myawaddy areas reached from 2,000 to 3,000. (Source: CCSDPT Open Session April 10, 2002)

In March, 26 new families or 135 individuals were reported to have come to Mae Kong Kha/Ban Sala as a result of SPDC food confiscation. (Source: CCSDPT Open Session April 10, 2002)

Throughout March, intermittent fighting occurred between the New Mon State Party (NMSP) and the break-away Hongsawatoi Restoration Party (Mon Land Restoration Party), as a result of ever increasing tension between the two groups. The HRP grew to approximately 800 to 1,000 people and relocated with their families to an area external to the Mon ceasefire zone. (Source: CCSDPT Open Session, March 13, 2002)

In March, it was reported that the SPDC launched an offensive against villagers and IDPs in northern Papun, Karen State. 11 villages were burned in March. Between January and March, a total of 29 villages were reported to have been burned. Many of these villages had been recently rebuilt following offensives in November and December of 2001. In addition, the military laid landmines, destroyed paddy fields and rice stores, stole belongings from the villagers, and killed two villagers who did not flee quickly enough. 4,000 people were in danger during the month as 6 SPDC military battalions were engaged in search and destroy missions. An estimated 3000 people became homeless as a result of these offensives, which caused the number of IDPs, who were all hiding in the jungle in Papun, to increase to more than 5,000. (Source: CCSDPT Open Session April 10, 2002)


On 4 April, it was reported that a 60 year old woman stepped on one of the many landmines that have been laid around the Halochanee resettlement site and was seriously injured as result. Problems had been reported in Halochanee resettlement site in Mon State as a result of discord between the New Mon State Party and the break-away Hongsawatoi Restoration Party. In addition, the tensions between the two groups and landmines created increased obstacles for the residents to maintain their livelihood. Most residents have farmland outside of the village but felt hesitant to leave and work for fear of the landmines. According to the Mon Relief and Development Council, approximately 2,000 people have left the Halochanee resettlement site to go to safer areas. It was reported that some families moved to the Three Pagodas Pass area. (Source: CCSDPT Open Session, April 10, 2002)

On 12 and 16 April, grenade and bomb explosions occurred near Mae Sot District, Tak Province, Thailand.(Source: ALTSEAN)

In April, NGOs reported that about 3,000 Burmese migrants deported from Mae Sot, Thailand were forced to undergo HIV testing in a holding center on the Burmese side of the border. Those who tested positive were reportedly segregated and sent to a hospital in Rangoon. Both mandatory testing and the segregation of those HIV-positive violates international standards. The Burmese government has yet to take clear steps in mounting a serious response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.(Source: Human Rights Watch World Report 2003)

General Maung Aye, the Chief of the Burmese Army, was reported to encourage the Thai Army to attack Wa drug producers. (Source: BBC)

In April, it was reported that the SPDC was forcing villagers to cultivate opium and due to a poor harvest, the villagers were unable to pay taxes and fled to Thailand. 1,394 new Shan refugees were reported to have fled to the Fang area of Thailand in April as a result of forced opium cultivation and forced relocation. (Source: CCSDPT Open Session April 10, 2002)

It was reported that the population of Mae Fa Luang refugee camp grew to 1,329 in April. The camp population is comprised of mostly Shan and Akha refugees. The population growth was attributed to Wa resettlement in southern Shan State. According to the press, there was fighting between the Wa and the Shan at the end of April. The SPDC ordered the Wa to withdraw from both the border and Tachilek in an attempt to improve relations with Thailand. While the Wa were reported to have closed all of their offices, they did not retreat from the Thai border areas. (Source: CCSDPT Open Session, May 8, 2002)


In the beginning of May, it was reported that the SPDC was establishing a new military base and completing construction of a road to Taunggyi in district two of Karenni State. As a result 73 new arrivals came to Karenni Camp 5 in the beginning of May. (Source: CCSDPT Open Session, May 8, 2002)

On 22 May, the SPDC closed its borders with Thailand after the Thai army fired shells into Burmese territory during a battle between the Burmese army/United Wa State Party (UWSP) and ethnic Shan rebels (Shan State Army or SSA). The hostilities began on 20 May. The border closing had a devastating impact on the Thai border economy with a total loss in trade of 113.7 million dollars. The SPDC re-opened the border on 15 October (source: UN Burma Service Office). As a result of the fighting between the SSA and SPDC/UWSP, a group of over 600 Shan refugees took shelter in Nong Korkham and Mak Kayon temples in Wiang Haeng district, Thailand. The Thai government planned to repatriate the group as soon as the SPDC finished their offensive against the SSA. (Source: Bangkok Post)

In May, the SPDC was reported to have attacked the traditional Karen stronghold of Weigi. The residents in the area were informed ahead of the attacks and 550 people fled with their belongings to the Salween River in Thailand. The group mentioned that they planned to return to their homes when the conditions were safe again. (Source: CCSDPT Open Session, May 8, 2002)

At the end of May, the SSA and UWSP/SPDC were reported to have been engaged in fighting in Doi Tai Laeng of Pang Mapha district. As a result, nearly 500 Shan refugees fled to Doi Tai Laeng. Access to the area for NGOS was denied and it was uncertain how many refugees croossed into Thailand because of the fighting. Yet, it was reported that the Thai military did permit refugees to enter Thai territory in the Doi Tai Laeng area. (Source: CCSDPT Open Session, June 12, 2002)

Between 1 April and 27 May, 885 new arrivals came into Nu Po camp. Most were from Duplaya district, where the SPDC was clearing the villages and relocating the residents to Lay Wanker. On 28 April, SPDC troops had entered the village of Thi Lor Bler burned it to the ground, massacred 11 people and injured another eight, most of them women and children. These people were apparently living on the perimeter of the village having come from a neighboring village that had earlier been razed by the troops. It is estimated that 24 villages were cleared and burned down. (Source: CCSDPT Open Session, 10 June 2002)   

Mae Kong Kha reported 121 new arrivals in May. Most resided in the Ban Sala camp reception center throughout the month. (Source: CCSPDT Open Session, 10 June 2002) 

It was reported that the SPDC engaged in a search and destroy mission in Dooplaya District, particularly focused on Kay-In and Kawkareik townships. Anyone thought to be sympathtic to or in support of the KNU was ordered to relocate. The army returned days after issuing their orders. They destroyed the homes of the suspected KNU supporters and killed anyone who had not yet moved. (Source: CCSPDT Open Session, 10 June 2002)  

It was reported that 400 to 500 Mon people crossed the border into Thailand as a result of increasing tension between the Mon National Army and the Hongsawatoi Restoration Party (HRP). An HRP member was killed on 21 May after the HRP entered Balt Don Pai resettlement site. The group of refugees returned to their village the following day having been told that the sitaution was safe again. At the same time, the Karen refugees living in Ban Don Yang were affected by the tensions between the HRP and Mon National Army because of their proximity to the border. As a result, the Thai authorities indicated that the camp was in no danger and relocated the residents to an area opposite a ceasefire zone. (CCSDPT Open Session, June 10, 2002)


On 3 June, unidentified gunmen opened fire on a Thai school bus in Ratchaburi province. 2 people were killed and 13 were wounded. The gunmen were suspected to be from the KNU, the DKBA or the SPDC trying to frame the KNU. As a result of the incident, NGOs and UNHCR were denied access to Tham Hin camp, located close to the location of the incident, until 20 June. (Source: Associated Press & CCSDPT Open Session, June 10, 2002)

On 9 June, Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra of Thailand, in an attack on foreign human rights defenders, said that NGOs and United Nations outfits helping minority groups in Burma could be scaled back once Thailand and Burma were on better terms. "These organisations should not interfere because they will cause problems for reconciliation attempts…Burma should be left to work out its own problems." (Source: UN Burma Service Office & Bangkok Post)

Between 1 April and 24 June, it was reported that 1,267 new refugees arrived to Nu Po camp. 50 more had arrived between 24 June and 10 July. The refugees reported that they were fleeing surprise attacks, forced relocation and execution if they did not comply with orders. Nearly 10,000 villagers in Duplaya were reported to have been affected by the SPDC’s activities. Many were reported to be heading towards the border but their journey was constantly prolonged as they were trying to avoid all encounters with SPDC soldiers. New refugees arrived in small groups and moved in with relatives who were already residents of the camp or in available barracks. The camp reportedly had plans to build seven new barracks to house the new arrivals. (Source: CCSDPT Open Session, July 10, 2002)


By July, Thailand and Burma were embroiled in a no-holds-barred media war, in which Burmese state press attacked the Thai monarchy; Burmese authorities also closed lucrative border crossings to Thai traders.(Source: HRW World Report 2003)

On 4 July, the Thai National Security Council (NSC) adopted a security directive, which imposed new restrictions and surveillance of activities of pro-democracy and human rights groups working on Burma issues in Thailand, including NGO’s, reporters and foreigners. The NSC directed the police to utilize immigration laws as the principle measure to control and stop the activities of Burmese pro-democracy and human rights groups, as individuals and organizations. ( Source: UN Burma Service Office)

On the same day, the Governor of Mae Hong Son announced plans to relocate Karenni Camp 3 to Karenni Camp 2. Forum Asia, a Thai NGO, criticized this move indicating that Karenni Camp 2 is often subject to attacks by the SPDC military, therefore by combining the camps, the government of Thailand is putting more people at risk of injury and death. (Source: AFP)

On 15 July, the Thai National Security Council banned all foreign journalists from visiting the refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border and restricted access for NGOs. The government indicated that this area is under "martial law" and access must be limited due to security concerns. The Thai government was accused of trying to appease the SPDC but they insisted this policy was created to protect Thai interests. (Source: AFP) The Burma Border Consortium reported that this policy did not prevent humanitarian assistance programs from operating if the NGOs already had agreements with the Thai Ministry of the Interior (MOI). (Source: BBC)

It was reported that 65 new refugees arrived to Karenni camp 5 as a result of SPDC attacks on a KNPP position west of the camp. 133 other Karenni villages arrived in Mae Kong Kha. They were unable to reach the Karenni camp because of the SPDC’s position and movement. ( CCSDPT Open Session, July 10, 2002)

It was repoted that 212 new refugees arrived to Nu Po fleeing forced relcation in Duplaya area. While there were reported to be some 3,000 IDPs, the SPDC was successful in blocking their flight across the border. (CCSDPT Open Session, July 10, 2002)


On 12 August, news sources reported that foreigners were working with the Karen National Union (KNU). Thailand’s Immigration Bureau indicated that it was conducting investigations of people who illegally enter Burma from Thailand to aid opposition groups. (Source: DPA)

On 20 August, the Thai authorities raided pro-democracy groups including, NLD-LA, DPNS, KNU, PDF, ABSDF and MYPO in Sangklaburi. 10 people were arrested while attending English class at DPNS, while four others were arrested at the NLD-LA office. 17 people, including children, were arrested when the police raided the Sangklaburi Fellowship Church. The pastor was also arrested, despite the fact that he held a proper ID, on charges of housing illegal immigrants. The Thai authorities proceeded to repatriate the activists whom they had arrested.(Source: HRW World Report 2003 & Irrawaddy)

On 29 August, 9 Italian medical volunteers, providing services to internally displaced people in Burma, were arrested for "illegally crossing the border."


On 2 September, there was a flash flood in Mae Khong Kha Camp resulting in the death of 27 refugees and the destruction or damage of 484 houses. Those who lost their homes also lost all of their belongings. There was concern that more landslides/floods would occur in Section 3 and 4 of the camp. Therefore the residents of those sections were temporarily moved to Section 1 and 2. The total cost of emergency supplies, emergency activities and rebuilding was estimated to be around 7 million Baht. The amount of damage or loss of schools and the loss of school supplies amounted to approximately US$100,000. All schools were closed during the month of September.(Source: BBC & CCSDPT Open Session, September, 11 2002)

On 21 September, the SPDC was reported to have arbitrarily killed Shan civilians in Kholam, a relocation site in central Shan State. The SPDC was reported to have removed 10 people from a Buddhist temple as they were observing Buddhist lent. The group was then led out of the village and shot. The group included 7 elderly people and all were killed. This incident partially caused the arrival of 372 new Shan refugees in Fang area in late September and early October. (Source: CCSDPT Open Session, October 9, 2002)


On 2 October, SPDC troops were reported to have shot and killed relocated Shan villagers on their way to work in their rice fields. The groups of villagers consisted of people from 10 relocated Shan villages and children. (Source: CCSDPT Open Session, October 9, 2002)

On 5 October, Mae Kong Kha camp was hit by another flood. There were no casualties reported, only the damage of approximately 7 houses. Some schools were destroyed which had survived the earlier September floods. (Source: CCSDPT Open Session, October 9, 2002)

On 15 October, the Thai-Burma border was officially reopened.(Source: Burma Today)

On 27 October, Nai Min Htut, a member of the Central Executive Committee of the New Mon State Party, was murdered in the Bee Ree resettlement site. Five other people were also murdered in the same incident. Many people believed that the Hongsawatoi Restoration Party (HRP) was responsible for the murders. The HRP denied any responsibility. As a result of the apparent tension between the Mon groups, the refugees residing at Ban Dong Yang were again concerned about their safety in the coming dry season. (Source: CCSDPT Open Session, November 13, 2002)


On 20 November, the Thai authorities arrested two former members of ABSDF in Bangkok and attempted to hand them over to the Burmese Embassy in Bangkok. The students refused to enter the building and were finally sent to the Immigration Detention Center (IDC). Meanwhile, the Thai authorities gave the Myanmar officials all photos and documents that the students had with them as they were on their way to Jesuit Refugee Services to seek assistance when they were arrested. This was the first time that the police tried to send members of opposition groups directly to the Burmese embassy. (Source: Network Media Group)

On 26 November, Deputy Prime Minister of Thailand, Gen Chavalit Yongchaiyudh announced that the SPDC government in Rangoon had agreed to move forward with 4 projects, including a series of dams on the Salween river. This decision was made disregarding the protests of many Burma advocacy groups and a warning from Thai Senate Foreign Affairs Chairman Kraisak Choonhavan, that the dams would cause greater human rights violations. In turn, this would cause more people to flee the abuses in Burma and create an increase in the refugee population in Thailand. (Source: "Thailand’s Investment in Salween Dam Project Win Approval from Rangoon", Bangkok Post, 3 December 2002 )

On 30 November, the chief of the Thai-Myanmar Cultural and Trade Cooperation Committee for Three Pagoda’s Pass went to visit offices of Burmese human rights defender groups in Sangklaburi accompanied by soldiers from the 9th Infantry Division. The organizations’ staff were questioned about the sources of their funding and ordered to supply their names, photographs and biographical details. The offices visited were the Federation of Trade Unions Burma (FTUB), People’s Defense Force (PDF), Democratic Party for a New Society (DPNS), Mon Youth Progressive Organization (MYPO), All-Burma Student’s Democratic Front (ABSDF), Tavoy Women’s Union (TWU) and Myeik-Dawei United Front (MDUF). (Source: UN Burma Service Office)


On 10 December, police arrested 28 Burmese human rights defenders who had gathered together in Mae Hong Song to discuss Thailand’s Constitution and International Human Rights Day. They were reportedly charged with conducting illegal political activities. News agencies were invited by police to cover the event. Burmese human rights defenders were arrested from the Karenni National Youth Organization (KNYO), Karenni School Teacher Organization (KSTO), Karenni Independent News Group (KING), Pa O Women’s Organization (PWO), ABSDF, National Network for Democracy (NDD) and Green November 32 (an environmental organization). Fourteen of those arrested possessed valid travel documents and were released. The remainder were released after being detained and fined. The host of the event, Dawn Ni of Green November 32, was sentenced to 6 months in jail.(Source: UN Burma Service Office)

On 15 December, soldiers from the 9th Infantry Division demanded information from PDF and MYPO in Sangklaburi about two English language teachers from the United States and Canada. Soldiers returned on December 19 to inform both teachers that their visa conditions did not permit them to teach. Both teachers subsequently left for Bangkok. (Source: UN Burma Service Office)

On 20 December, the Thai police raided the Mon Youth Progressive Organization (MYPO) based in Sangklaburi, Thailand and arrested six Mon youth political activists. The Thai authorities released the activists in Plaing Japan of Three Pagodas Pass, a border town inside Burma (source: The Kao Wao). On the same day, the commander of the Thai Ninth Army ordered all offices of Burmese opposition groups in Sangklaburi to close their offices within two days or face arrest and deportation. It was reported that over 100 political activists took refuge in the jungle in order to avoid the Thai authorities. (Source: The Irrawaddy) 

On 23 December, Major-General Mana Prachakit held a public meeting in Sangklaburi during which he ordered all village headmen to insure that no Burmese human rights defenders reside in their areas of responsibility and that homeowners stop renting to Burmese human rights defenders on threat of arrest for harboring illegal migrants.(Source: UN Burma Service Office) 

In the last week of December, two groups of Burmese refugees in Kanchanaburi province were taken by the Thai authorities and deported back to Burma after the Surasi Task Force inspected the border area. The Thai government reiterated that it would not allow foreign groups leading opposition campaigns against neighboring countries to operate on Thai soil. The local media reported that 65 Karen villagers were deported. (Source: Agence France Presse)

On 27 December, it was reported that the Thai Ninth Army burned down an area of Karen homes and treated the residents violently in Kanchanburi province. The Thai Army denied these charged and insisted that they only relocated the inhabitants in accordance with Thailand’s policy of not allowing opposition groups to organize on Thai soil. The Thai Army insisted that the group had established an office in Wia Ka Dhi village and were organizing against the Burmese government. (Source: Xinhua General News Service)

On 29 December, Thailand removed Burma from the list of countries from which a 30-day visa is issued upon arrival in Thailand.. This means that Burmese human rights defenders can no longer receive a visa at border checkpoints and must travel to a neighboring country in order to apply for a visa at a Thai embassy. However, Thai embassies in neighboring countries have been refusing to grant visas to Burmese applicants and instruct them to apply in Rangoon. This has a serious impact on the ability of Burmese democracy and human rights activists to stay in Thailand legally and several Burmese human rights defenders have had to forgo their passports and the protection it provides them. (Source: UN Burma Service Office)

On the same day, newly elected Thai National Security Council Chief Gen Winai Phattiyakhul publicly stated that Thailand would stop sheltering refugees from political conflicts saying, "from now on, we will force them to go back to where they came from. Thailand will not welcome refugees from neighbouring countries anymore."(Source:The Nation & UN Burma Service Office)

14.3 Situation in India, Bangladesh and Malaysia

Situation of Rohingya Refugees

The Muslim Rohingya of Arakan State suffer human rights abuses above and beyond their non-Rohingya Buddhist neighbors living in the same area. Victims of ethnic and religious discrimination dating back to independence, most Rohingya have never been given Burmese citizenship. While the Rohingya have been living in Burma since the 12th century, the government does not identify them as one of the "135 national races". Since the ruling military regime came to power in 1962, the Rohingya have been labeled as illegal immigrants. The government has made concerted efforts to push them out of Burma by restricting their freedom of movement, confiscating their land for Buddhist settlers or military use, destroying mosques and subjecting the Rohingya to forced labor (source: RI).

As a result of this, their status as both migrants and refugees is made more precarious, with Burma refusing to accept some repatriated refugees back, stating that they were not Burmese citizens initially. Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh and Malaysia, as well as Chin refugees in India, are all subject to the constant threat of forced repatriation or deportation, raising concerns of refoulment, which is contrary to international law. On 1 August 2002, the SPDC signed the United States – Asean Joint Declaration of Cooperation to Combat International Terrorism. This has categorized the Rohingya as terrorists and led to further suppression. (Source: Forum Asia & RI)


The refugees from Burma in Bangladesh can be divided into three categories: Rohingya inside the camps, Rohingya outside the camps and Rakhine living in Dhaka. There are approximately 21,500 refugees from Burma living in the two existing refugee camps in southern Bangladesh. There is another estimated 100,000 to 200,000 Rohingya living outside the camps as illegal immigrants in the Cox’s Bazar and Bandarban areas. Lastly, there are 50 official Rakhine urban refugee cases, which are recognized by the UNHCR.

After the 1990 elections, SLORC increased their presence in Arakan State in an attempt to crackdown on Muslim extremist insurgents. As a result of the military’s augmented presence, the Rohingya were subjected to land confiscation, forced labor, forced relocation, execution, torture and rape. Many Muslim leaders were harassed, while mosques were destroyed and religious activities banned. In 1991 – 92 over 250,000 Rohingya fled across the border to Bangladesh in an attempt to escape the conditions in Burma. In 1996, a second wave of 10,000 to 15,000 asylum seekers entered Bangladesh to escape an intensified environment of discrimination. The government of Bangladesh was initially welcoming of the refugees and made efforts to accommodate and support them. At the same time, the government of Bangladesh maintained the perspective that the refugees’ presence was only temporary and encouraged their return to Burma. The process of repatriation began as the result of agreements between Burma, Bangladesh and the UNHCR worked out in 1992. In 1993 the UNHCR commenced a campaign to repatriate 190,000 refugees by 1995. However, the agreement contained no provisions for impartial screening of the refugees before they went back or for monitoring their well-being when they returned. The voluntariness of the refugees’ return was questioned and there are reports that the authorities in Bangladesh withheld food from and beat the refugees to forcibly return them to Burma. In 1997 repatriation was halted by the Burmese government and only began again in very limited numbers the next year.

In June of 1997, 5,000 new refugees arrived in Bangladesh, however 500 of them were sent back by local authorities. As of May 1992, access to the refugee camps has been denied to new arrivals. Refugees who managed to find places to stay in the camps, with friends or relatives, were tracked down by the Bangladeshi authorities and charged with illegal entry. Others did not enter the camps but hid in jungle areas or slums in Cox’s Bazaar. It is estimated that between 10,000 and 15,000 Rohingya arrived in Bangladesh in 1997, as well as in 1996, but because they didn’t enter the refugee camps there is no exact population count. As of 1997, police officials announced that 2,000 newly arrived refugees had been sent back to Burma in the preceding months.

The repatriation process has continued in smaller numbers through the years. At the same time, the inflow of refugees has also been maintained at smaller numbers. In early 2002, Burma cleared 5,000 Rohingya refugees to be repatriated. While the UNHCR reports that most agreed to return, many refugees are reluctant to go as they are wary of the human rights situation in Burma. The Bangladeshi government has worked to continue the process of repatriation and refuses to allow integration into the local community. The Burmese government has not officially cleared the remaining refugees in the camps and has created extensive bureaucratic procedures that have complicated the repatriation process. In the hopes of improving economic and general relations with Burma, Bangladesh aims to repatriate all Rohingya refugees in the two remaining camps by the end of 2003. In January 2002, the UNHCR also announced its plans to continue repatriation with proper information and counselling sessions. In early 2003, the UNHCR released the details of its plans to extricate from the border area over a two year period. This plan includes relinquishing authority over the two remaining camps to the Bangladeshi government by the end of December 2003.

The UNHCR hopes to promote integration of the Rohingya into the local community pending voluntary repatriation to Burma. Job skill training, development of local infrastructure, and income generating projects would be initiated in order to prepare both the refugees and the community for a successful integration process. The aim is for refugees to be self-sufficient and no longer dependent on the economic support of humanitarian agencies. In addition the UNHCR plans to end their participation in the repatriation process in June 2003 and leave the Burma/Bangladesh governments in charge of the proceedings. At the end of December 2004, the UNHCR office in Cox’s Bazaar would close but the protection of refugees would still be monitored. This plan raises some concerns over the possible abuses that could ensue without the presence of the UNHCR as it is the only international organization with a protection mandate.The Bangladeshi government wants the UNHCR to remain an active participant in the repatriation process and a source of assistance for the camps. The government of Bangladesh also indicated that a program to promote self sufficiency might create a "pull factor" encouraging refugees to stay as opposed to returning to Burma, which is contrary to their aims of repatriating all refugees. (Source: Forum Asia)

Under the supervision of the UNHCR, nearly 232,000 refugees have been repatriated to Burma while approximately 25,000 still live in the two remaining refugee camps. Of the 20 orginial camps that were erected to accommodate the masses of refugees in 1991, only Nayapara camp near Teknaf and Kutupalong camp near Ukhia remain. According to a survey conducted by Medecins Sans Frontieres (MSF) in the 2002 report, 10 Years for the Rohingya Refugees In Bangladesh: Past, Present and Future, 53% of adults and 58% of children in the camps are malnourished. These figures result from the consistent problems the refugees face receiving food and water supplies. Over population is another problem leading to over crowding and poor santitation. The 2002 MSF survey also indicates that the average house holds 6-7 people in a 100 sq ft space. The government of Bangladesh prohibits any construction of permanent structures or improvements to old ones because the refugees’ stay is viewed as temporary.

Officially, all refugees are not allowed to leave the camps or to work. Most are completely dependent on humanitarian aid for their survival while a minority work outside the camps. As these activities go against camp regulations, those who go outside risk arrest by the local police or punishment from the camp police if they are caught. Rohingya refugees also continually report harassment from the local community. (Source: MSF)

Outside of the camps, the members of the Rohingya community of anywhere from 100,000 to 200,000 people, are considered illegal immigrants. Denied access to the camps since 1992, they are considered "new arrivals" and have mostly settled in the Cox’s Bazaar and Bandarban areas. The government of Bangladesh views them as "economic migrants" and not as refugees. In actuality, these refugees are continuing to flee conditions in Burma where they are unable to find suitable employment, feed themselves or maintain a living place as a result of the SPDC’s discriminatory policies and practices of forced labour, extortion and land confiscation. The inflow of "new arrivals" consists of people who are fleeing Burma for the first time as well as people who were repatriated once and entered Bangladesh for a second time. Teknaf camp, which is unofficial and is not supervised by the UNHCR holds 4,500-5,000 Rohingya who were evicted from their rented homes in November 2002. The "camp" consists of provisional structures made of plastic and cardboard. (Source: Forum Asia)

Only a small number of Rakhine Buddhists go to Bangladesh. UNHCR has 50 documented cases of urban refugees living in Dhaka who are political activists. The Rakhine Buddhists leave Burma due to the SPDC’s heavy tax and strict controls on Arakan State and their attempts to conform them to Burman ways. In 1998, the UNHCR reduced aid to the urban refugees leaving their living conditions worse that before. (Source: Forum Asia)

Burmese in Bangladeshi Prisons

According to a report by Forum Asia, there are more than 500 Burmese detained in Bangladeshi jails. These detainees are mostly "released prisoners" who have completed their prison sentences but because the SPDC does not recognize them as Burmese citizens, they can’t be released. Many have been detained for over 10 years past the finish of their sentence. Half are Rohingya and half are fisherman from areas such as Mon State and Tenasserim Division, who were employed by Thai fishing boats and were arrested for fishing in Bangladeshi waters. (Source: Forum Asia)

In early 2001, the SPDC agreed to take back prisoners in small numbers. On 28 September 2001, 89 approved prisoners were taken from the Cox’s Bazaar prison by officials from the Burmese embassy and handed over to the SPDC Nasaka border security forces in the border town of Maungdaw. Each prisoner was given 1,000 kyat to cover the cost of their journey to their homes. (Source: Narinjara)

On 4 November 2002, it was reported that 237 Burmese prisoners in the Bandarban prison commenced a hunger strike to protest their extended detention. The group demanded to be repatriated to their country as they had remained in prison for at least 9 years after their prison term was complete. The District Commissioner of Bandarban tried to stop the prisoners by promising that he would try his best to resolve the situation. The prisoners replied with a threat of mass suicide. (Source: Narinjara)

Unrest and Protest at Nayapara Refugee Camp

As a result of the continued work of the Government of Bangladesh to repatriate all refugees throughout 2002, unrest and fear grew among the camp populations. On 3 July, it was reported that the Rohingya refugees residing in Nayapara Camp protested the government of Bangladesh’s repatriation program and demanded Bangladeshi citizenship. The protest resulted in a collision with the local police. The protest occurred at the same time as a visit by high level organizations such as the World Food Programme, the UNHCR, the US Embassy in Dhaka and the Ministry of Relief. The refugees held banners with slogans expressing their aversion to repatriation and desire to be granted citizenship in Bangladesh. At the same time, 17 families were reported to be refusing their food rations in protest of the military regime in Burma and to call for the establishment of democracy. (Source: Narinjara News)

On 5 July, 300 Rohingya refugees at Nayapara Camp refused to receive their relief materials while holding meetings and rallies to demonstrate their aversion to being repatriated to Burma.(Source: Independent Bangladesh)

Again on 15 September, it was that reported that a group of Rohingya refugees at Nayapara Refugee Camp clashed with police and Ansar paramilitary forces. The refugees had been protesting the Government of Bangladesh’s repatriation program when the clash broke out. The incident commenced in the afternoon and continued through the night. More than 20 Rohingya refugees were wounded as well as four law enforcement officials. 5 Rohingya refugees were arrested as a result and the camp was raided by the Bangladeshi authorities on 21 September. 106 weapons were confiscated. (Source: Narinjara & Reuters)


According to the U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 – Burma, there are approximately 5,000 Burmese refugees in Malaysia. Rohingyas go to Malaysia to escape the SPDC’s policies of religious discrimination which prevent them from working, feeding their families, and practicing their religion. Yet very few Rohingya have received UNHCR refugee status in Malaysia. Since the beginning of the 1990s, over 2,000 Rohingya have applied for refugee status but only 100 have been resettled in third countries. In the past two years over 470 Chin refugees have petitioned for refugee asylum and only 29 have been recognized. (Source: Irrawaddy)

The Malaysian government is not a signatory to the UN Refugee Convention of 1951 and not obligated to respect the decisions of the UNHCR. There is no repatriation agreement between the Malaysian government and the SPDC. The Malaysian government has been reported to deport Burmese refugees to Thailand where they often fall into the hands of traffickers leading to work in brothels or on fishing boats (please see chapter on women for more information on trafficking). Even refugees who have been recognized by the UNHCR, have been subject to arrest or deportation. In 2002, it was reported that two Chin women with UNHCR refugee status and proper documentation, Tha Sui Chin and Tha Hnaing Sung, were arrested. Both women were sent to a camp for illegal immigrants. The government of Malaysia does not distinguish between refugees and those who are seeking better economic opportunities. All Burmese refugees are subject to the same laws and penalties as illegal immigrants/workers. As of 1 August 2002, the Malaysian government instituted their "zero – tolerance" policy of illegal workers and their employers. A worker caught by the authorities without proper documentation risks caning and 6 months imprisonment. Employers of illegal workers risk 6 months imprisonment, 5 licks of a cane and a $13,157 fine. Workers who try to leave usually must purchase the help of a broker who can arrange for their travel. The fee for a broker is $263US. This policy is a threat to both refugees and migrant workers alike. (Source: ALTSEAN)

In January 2002, 28 Rohingyas entered the UNHCR office in Kuala Lumpur demanding refugee status. The UNHCR concluded that the group did not qualify for refugee status and turned them over to Malaysian police custody. As a result, there was a reported increase in criticism of the UNHCR Malaysia office and its low record of granting asylum. Again in June 2002, 17 Rohingya entered the UNHCR premises and demanded protection under refugee status. They held banners saying "Please help us on humanitarian considerations." This group was also handed over to the Malaysian police. The UNHCR in Malaysia has been widely criticized by international human rights groups in the past, including Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International, for not properly fulfilling its role of international protection. In this instance, human rights groups expressed concern that the UNHCR was not fully considering the danger that the Rohingyas face if they are sent back to Burma. (Source: AFP)

Situation of Chin Refugees in India

According to the U.S. Committee for Refugees World Refugee Survey 2002 – Burma, there are 52,000 Chin refugees living in India. The Chin are a minority ethnic group concentrated in Chin State Burma. The majority of the Chin population is Christian and as a result, they often suffer from religious persecution as well as ethnic discrimination. The SPDC prevents or limits religious gatherings and prohibits evangelists from giving sermons. In addition, Christians have been forced to engage in labor for Buddhist pagodas. The Chin are also subject to other forms of forced labor, extortion, rape and other human rights abuses which have increased as the SPDC presence has grown in Chin State.

Yet, Chin refugees are not guaranteed any protection or better circumstances in India. The government of India is not a signatory to the 1951 UN Convention on Refugees. In addition, the government of India does not allow most foreigners or the UNHCR access to Mizoram State, where the majority of the Chin refugee population has settled. There is no refugee camp or humanitarian assistance for the Chin refugees in Mizoram State. Most people enter the local labor market in order to survive. While the Chin people are ethnically related to the Mizos, people of Mizoram State, they are often the subject of resentment because the foreigner population is ever increasing and is believed to be the source of social problems. The Chin refugees often become the targets of different political groups and are frequently threatened with deportation, arrest or eviction. In 2001, many Chins were forcibly evicted from their homes and left homeless in Lunglei District. In March 2002, it was reported that Chin refugees again were evicted from their homes by the Young Mizo Association in Lunglei District. It was reported that Mizos entered the homes of many Chin refugees and told them to leave their homes or their possessions would be destroyed. In June 2002, it was reported that the local authorities of Lunglei town initiated a campaign to expel all foreigners from Lunglei district as a result of pressure from the Young Mizo Association. Local home owners were instructed not to rent to Chin refugees and evictions continued through to 2003. In Dampui village of Serchip district, the district authorities instructed the Chin refugees to vacate their homes by 15 January 2003 or they would be placed under arrest. The authorities also prohibited church attendance after the same date. (Source: CHRO)

"A few hundred Burmese activists and their relatives facing persecution have approached UNHCR in New Delhi for protection. Chin represent the largest Burmese urban refugee caseload in Delhi of about 800 individuals. Even though most of them have been recognised by UNHCR as "persons of concern", their situation in Delhi is also uncertain. So far, UNHCR has provided them with a small monthly subsistence allowance of Rs 1,400 (about US$30) per person and even less for dependents. But over the last couple of years, UNHCR has been threatening to cut this financial assistance in order to promote self-reliance. Lack of education and employment opportunities combined with inadequate and cramped living standards make their lives miserable. The Indian authorities have issued them with residence permits, but denial of work permits makes any attempt at self-reliance almost impossible and illegal . Young Chin people often join Bible schools in the absence of other educational opportunities. " (Source: The Refugee Situation on the Western Borders of Burma, Forum Asia, 9 October 2002)

14. 4 Personal Accounts

Living With a Density of Diseases : by Poe Dah 

This article is written by Poe Dah, a friend of Burma Issues, on her experiences within Tham Hin Refugee Camp and the conditions in the camp that are the cause of major health concerns . This refugee camp houses a population of nearly 9000 refugees, encompassing the population of a small town in a small, restricted area, with little infrastructure to deal with the myraid of health problems. 

Since February 1997 the Karen people, including my family and I from Mergui / Tavoy district, fled to Thai soil as their area was invaded by the SPDC (State Peace and Development Council) troops. When we first arrived in Thailand we had to sleep on the ground at the border, often sleeping in fear because we could not build a higher floor to sleep on. After a month of living like this we were moved to Tham Hin camp. When I lived in Tham Hin camp four years ago I felt very upset because the camp situation is very horrible. I have watched many of my neighbours and friends die due to the diseases in the camp, most of the children and adults are contracting the dangerous disease called meningitis which is killing the people very quickly.

The Thai military authorities had classified the entire Tham Hin camp population as living in temporary shelter and did not allow the people to even call the place a ‘’Refugee Camp". It was grouped into three zones, Zone (1), Zone (2) and Zone (3) and in June 1997 they gave it the name, Tham Hin camp. "Maybe this is why they called it a temporary shelter area. But this is no shelter, you can’t call this is a shelter area." [The Nation 18 October 2000, UNHCR Sadako Ogata.] They set-up the population of 8250 people (about 1850 houses) into houses, located within 5 by 5 meter sq. plots for a family with only 6-8 meters of plastic sheet as roofing. This has resulted in an unhealthy living situations. The heat from the plastic sheet roofing creates high temperatures and the size of the housing has caused over-crowding. Dry toilets, poor drinking water, dirty bath water and not enough soap has all contributed to the current health problems. The flow-off from the rain has become their source of drinking water, meaning there is very little fresh water available to drink, baths are also taken in dirty water. All of this produces poor living conditions and many people get sick very easily. "Htam Hin is very crowded. That’s the biggest problem".[Bangkok Post 12 December 2000, Mr. Kapranis.]

I have seen many of my neighbours and friends die from many diseases when they arrived at the camp. Health care is provided by MSF (Medcins Sans Frontiers). "Malaria and diarrhea were among the most common diseases afflicting the refugees but these are controllable.

Even HIV/ AIDS cases are rare and not a big problem," according to the MSF Director. Many diseases have increased over a short period of time; usually the people get many diseases like high blood pressure, Malaria, Diarrhea, Dengue Hemorrhages Fever, and they die. In 2001 this disease later known as Meningitis which infects the brain, affected many children in Tham Hin camp. As this disease can easily spread people have to avoid visiting these patients. The following is a common situation experienced by many families: When the children get this disease the family has to take the sick person to the hospital immediately. When the people get this disease it is very sad for them because they cannot walk and their whole body is not like it was before they got this disease; it appears like measles, mumps, whooping cough and ear infections. If they get this disease we cannot visit them because the disease can infect anyone who stays close to them, families will visit but cannot stay close, only the doctors will touch them. They can suffer this disease for a few days then they die.

Because of the high density of the population it is easy for the diseases to travel, especially in the drinking water; this is exacberated in the rainy season when many things are not good for your health. When we arrived in the camp we had to use one toilet for 2 or 3 families. The toilets are located very far from our houses and are very dirty and smelly, these conditions have improved somewhat now the MSF supplies quality toilet water but the condition of the drinking water is still not good. Most people also use the same stream for bathing and drinking. The food is not so fresh to eat as fly eggs and rats destroy the food before the people can eat it.

The previous United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, Miss Sadako Ogata, had visited Tham Hin Camp in early 2000 and said that the location of Tham Hin camp is very poor. She had compared it with other refugee camps in Thailand and remarked that the Thai military authorities did not do the best they could in the camp. When she saw refugees from Cambodia in Thailand the situation was far better than Tham Hin. She also expressed deep concern over the camp’s sanitation, but as yet there are still epidemic out-breaks. She recommended that the location especially spacing and shelter must be reconsidered. [The Nation 18 October 2000, Sadako Ogata.]

People in the camp want to go back to their own villages, before we lived in established and self-supporting villages, but they want to do this with peace and a feeling of security for their lives. When we lived in our own villages we did not spend lots of money on food and other supplies. We want freedom, we want to have control of our lives and then we can find money for ourselves. We also had good health and fresh air, fresh drinking water and fresh food in our villages. We did not need help from anyone and this lack of control over our own lives creates an unhappiness at having to stay in Tham Hin camp. The Thai military authorities have encouraged people to return quickly to their villages but if we do go back we do so without peace and safety from SPDC control.

In this article I have tried to show the very difficult conditions in Tham Hin camp and how these conditions have made so many neighbours and friends of mine get sick or even die. It doesn’t have to be like this. I believe the Thai authorities need to consider the following recommendations, or else the problems and suffering will only continue.

The Thai authorities must consider allowing the refugees to manage their own land and there must be wider space and better shelter that will bring better health. Other essential items are the need for more land to build their houses on and to change the roofing to thatch. I encourage the UNHCR and other groups to seek protection for the refugees and to encourage the Thai government to allow more assistance for health. Many refugees complain that they only receive paracetamol and low milligrams of medicines and that it’s not enough to combat the health problems in the camp. So we need MSF to consider this situation when implementing their working systems in the camp. In regards to the poor drinking water, if we cannot change the water source we must make the existing source as clean as possible. The people have to participate in taking care of themselves and preparing health structures to get more sanitation in their community. (Source: Burma Issues, "Living With a Density of Diseases", Poe Dah, July 2002)



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