14. The Situation of Refugees

14.1 Background

 

A refugee, under international law, is defined as any person who:

... owing to well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership of a particular social group or political opinion is outside the country of his nationality and is unable or, owing to such fear, unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country or who, not having a nationality and being outside the country of his former habitual residence ... is unable or, owing to such fear is unwilling to return to it.

(Article 1 of the Refugee Convention)

There are currently more than 135,000 refugees living in Thailand. Refugees from Burma are also in refugee camps along the Bangladeshi and Indian borders, as well as working and living in Bangladesh, India, Pakistan and Malaysia. The line between refugee and migrant is a thin one and there are also an estimated 1 million migrant workers living in Thailand who have fled from their homes for many of the same reasons that official refugees have. (The topic of migrant workers from Burma is covered in the next chapter) The majority of refugees living in Thailand are from the Karen, Karenni, Shan and Mon ethnic groups with migrant workers coming from all ethnic groups and all areas of Burma. The majority of Burmese refugees in Bangladesh are Rohingya Muslims who face religious and ethnic persecution in their native Arakan State in western Burma. Many Rohingya refugees have been repatriated since 250,000 of them fled to the Cox’s Bazaar District of Bangladesh in 1992 and there are currently 22,000 refugees remaining in the camps. Thousands of Rohingya refugees have also migrated or been trafficked to India and Pakistan where there are a number of Rohingya refugee women and girls who have been sold into prostitution.

Refugees flee Burma for a number of reasons, including large scale human rights abuses such as forced relocations, rape, forced labor, torture, the confiscation of land and property, arbitrary arrest and lack of personal security. In areas where there are ethnic armed resistance groups still active, such as in Shan and Karen States, villagers have faced mass forced relocation programs in the past few years along with other human rights violations. More than 1 million people are living as IDPs with the potential to become cross-border refugees during times of increased military pressure or hardship. 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.

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 2001

The Burma Border Consortium (BBC) reported that at the end of 2001 there was a total refugee population in Thailand of 138,117, an all-time high. Since the beginning of 2001, 10,203 new refugees have arrived in Thailand. From July to December 2001, the rate of new arrivals in the camps was approximately 800 per month. According to BBC, these number are slightly lower than average for the last three years, but normal for the rainy season. It is important to note that lower numbers of refugees do not reflect an improvement in the situation across the border, and there has been no reprieve from human rights abuses committed by the Burmese Army. Instead the lower numbers reflect the fact that escaping Burma and entering the camps in Thailand has become increasingly difficult for potential refugees. The Thai policy to accept only those “fleeing fighting” has been strictly maintained, and local authorities have ordered camp committees not to allow any increase in camp populations. In order to slip by SPDC patrols and to avoid notice by the Thai Authorities, refugees have begun to split up and arrive in smaller numbers. When they do arrive, many decide not to register themselves for fear that they will be sent back. 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 Camp Committees in December 2001 was as follows:

Thai Government policy towards refugees

Refugees in Thailand face a lack of protection due to Thai government policies that largely fail to comply with 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, these include:

ท 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;

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

ท Severely limiting the role of UNHCR;

ท 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 the SPDC. A series of incidents involving armed Burmese dissidents that began with the Burmese Embassy siege in October 1999 and ended with the shooting of 6 Thai villagers in December 2000, led the Thai public to adopt a very negative view of Burmese refugees and migrant workers. In 2001 the Thais gained a better understanding of the true nature of SPDC activities in the border areas, following a series of clashes between the Burmese and Thai armies along the border of northern Shan State. These skirmishes, which arose from conflicts over insurgent activities, drug smuggling, and border demarcation disputes, caused a temporary strain in Thai/Burma relations, and led the Thai public to adopt a more sympathetic attitude towards the refugees. In June 2001 Thai Prime Minister Thaksin Shinawatra visited Rangoon, normalizing relations between the two countries and continuing a dialogue with the SPDC on how to repatriate both refugees and illegal workers. To date there has been little concrete progress from these meetings, but it is distressing that the discussions have so far ignored the concerns of the ethnic minority groups involved, and not taken into account the true situation of conflict along the border. This year pressure to repatriate the refugees has increased as a number of Thai officials have publicly protested that the refugees are an intolerable burden on Thailand, wasting government money, wrecking havoc on the environment and spreading diseases.

Many prominent members of the international community disagree with the Thai government’s contention that the presence of 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 2001 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 Karen organizations estimate that in Karen State alone there are 120,000 IDPs in hiding, all of whom are potential refugees. There are many other IDPs who are living in resettlement areas controlled by the SPDC, where they are frequently conscripted for forced labour and forced portering, as well as facing many other abuses. A large number of people living in these areas also attempt to flee to Thailand.

New asylum seekers, whose cases are now handled by Provincial Admissions Boards (PABs), face the rejection of their applications unless they are fleeing 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. The process for asylum seekers has been extremely slow as PABs have no consistent meeting schedule and there is a delay between the time asylum-seekers are interviewed by district officials and when their cases are actually presented to the PABs. UNHCR’s statistics show that 29,067 persons have sought admission to Thailand from May 1999 to December 2001. Of these, 11,718 were accepted as refugees (41%), while 10,048 were rejected (35%) and 6, 941 (24%) 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 legitimate fears 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.

The most recent incidence of forced repatriation occurred on 6 November 2001, when 63 Karen asylum seekers were sent back to Burma through the Mon cease-fire area at Halochanee. (For more information on this event see timeline below). At the time of writing, the situation for the Karen in Halochanee and that of the 5,211 refugees whose requests for asylum have been rejected by the Thai authorities remains precarious. There is also concern over what will happen to the growing number of new arrivals who are not registering themselves. While Thai government policy states that all rejected cases must be repatriated, it remains unclear when or how this will be carried out.

Situation in the Camps

The biggest problems among camp refugees continue to be HIV/AIDS and drug addiction. Skyrocketing birthrates are adding to overcrowding and could possibly contribute to developmental problems and malnutrition among children. The average population growth for Thailand is 1%, while in the camps it is 4%. The problem is most serious in camps at Tham Hin in Suan Phung district, Ratchaburi, and Mae La in Tak’s Tha Song Yang district. Every month 20 babies are born at Tham Hin camp, said one official. The figure is even higher at Mae La, which is the largest camp with some 30,000 refugees. Officials have encouraged refugees to plan their families and use condoms but have only limited success because birth control is against the religious beliefs of many refugees.

In a visit to Tham Hin camp in October 2000, former High Commissioner for Refugees, Mrs. Sadako Ogata, stated that the camp, which houses 8,200 Karen refugees, was unacceptably overcrowded. Tham Hin camp has a population density approximately 4 times greater any other camp. In February 2001 United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, Mary Robinson reiterated concerns about the living conditions of refugees in camps along the Thai/Burma border publicly and to the Thai prime minister. In June 2001 there were serious outbreaks of dengue and typhoid in Tham Hin, which caused the international community to advocate for the camp to be relocated. While a possible relocation site has been found several kilometers from the current site, to date no decision has been made to move the camp.

In recent years, as refugees have become more aid dependent due to restrictions on their movement, this has impacted their nutritional intake. 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 had to go from providing 50 percent of staple diet needs in 1984 to providing 100 percent by the mid 1990s. In February 2001, a food consumption/nutrition status survey carried out by BBC in Mae La camp indicated that current refugees are even more dependent on aid than was previously thought. The study also showed that despite the fact that most Mae La residents had lived in Thailand for a substantial amount of time, the majority of families remain very poor, with only 4% of the population receiving a year-round income. Finally, 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.

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 5.3. 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.

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.

Closure of the Maneeloy Burmese Student Center

Following the attack by Burmese rebels on the Ratchaburi Hospital in January 2000, the Thai government made the decision to close the Maneeloy Burmese Student Centre. The center had been the only place of asylum outside the refugee camps and had been holding students, as well as other “Persons of Concern” who had applied for asylum in Bangkok but could not stay at the border for their own security. With UNHCR assistance, by the end of October 2001, 2,300 of the former residents had been resettled in third countries. In addition, Most of the 200 or so individuals remaining from the registered caseload already had resettlement places and were only waiting to be processed. The Thai government set the date of closure for December 15th, and announced that the remaining refugees would be resettled in Tham Hin camp.

At issue was the fact that in addition to registered refugees, Maneeloy also housed around 170 UNHCR Persons of Concern (POCs), who were recognized by UNHCR as refugees, but were not part of the originally registered Maneeloy caseload, and thus were considered by the Thai government to be “safe” at the border. Of further concern were the over 100 other Burmese in the camp, who were not registered or recognized as POCs. The Thai government announced that these people would be treated as illegal immigrants and subject to arrest and deportation.

Following the announcement of the camp’s imminent closure, there were some demonstrations and protests by the Burmese student leaders. Meetings took place between the students and high-ranking Thai officials, UNHCR and the NGOs, and the deadline was extended a short time in order to provide time for these meetings and for the preparation of accommodations in Tham Hin.

On 27 December 2001, a total of 393 people were transferred to Tham Hin, with many of the illegal residents having previously “disappeared.” When they arrived, Tham Hin had prepared accommodations, food, cooking utensils and medical services for them.

So far there have been no major problems with the new residents, who are receiving services from NGOs in the camps, and appear to have accepted their situation for the present time. Some people however, have expressed unhappiness with their isolated location, and living conditions that are far below what was available at Maneeloy. Currently these individuals have all been registered by UNHCR and so in theory, are eligible for resettlement on a case-by-case basis. However, only those refugees in the original Maneeloy caseload are actually guaranteed resettlement. Most of the remaning refugees have previously failed UNHCR’s criteria for resettlement.

The closure of Maneeloy highlights the fact that there are many UNHCR POC’s, and many other Burmese asylum seekers not officially recognized or registered, who cannot easily seek refuge in the camps. Many of these people are politically active, ethnic Burmans who would find it difficult to fit in with the other ethnic nationalities in the border camps. Some of these individuals have had past conflicts with the leadership of communities on the border, and others would find it difficult to adjust and survive as single persons in camps that are run on established family and community structures that would be alien to them. Despite these problems there currently remains no other option for these people. (Source: BBC)

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.

Situation of Karenni Refugees

In 1989 small and relatively low 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

With a population of approximately 2 million, the Mon began their struggle for autonomy from the Burmese government in 1948. Since 1958, the Mon people have been represented by the New Mon State Party (NMSP) and its armed wing, the Mon National Liberation Army. 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 cease-fire 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)

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. (See interviews with Pa-O refugees at the end of this chapter) (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)

In the last six months of 2001 there were approximately 4,500 new arrivals reported in Fang District alone. As these people continue to be denied recognition as refugees by the Thai government, NGOs are largely prohibited from providing them with any assistance. The majority of Shan people who have fled from Burma live in the fields and orchards of Chiang Rai, Chiang Mai and Mae Hong Son provinces, subsisting on poorly paid seasonal work. 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.

Currently there are two informal Shan refugee camps right on the border, 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, and if there is an SPDC/Wa attack the refugees in these camps would almost certainly have to flee into Thailand. A number of the newly arrived refugees in these camps have been displaced by Wa people relocated from Northern Shan State. Up to 250,000 Wa people are reported to be scheduled for relocation, with possibly 100,000 to 150,000 having already have been moved. This massive resettlement is affecting large numbers of Shan people, who are increasingly being forced to flee across the border as they lose their homes and livelihoods.

In August 2001 the political wing of the Shan State Army, the Restoration Council of the Shan State (RCSS) submitted a formal request that the Thai Government allow camps to be established for the most vulnerable Shan refugees. The RCSS proposed that one camp be created in each of the three northern provinces, to provide refuge for a total of 6,000 refugees. So far there has yet to be a positive response on this issue from the Thai government. (Source: BBC)

 

Timeline of major refugee related events on the Thai/Burma border in 2000

January:

On 15 January escalating abuses by the State Peace and Development Council (SPDC) in northeastern Pa’an district, Karen State forced a stream of families over the border into Thailand. On January 15 at least 13 families from Hlaing Bwe township fled their village and walked a day and a half across the mountains to cross into Thailand. Currently over 70 Karen villagers are gathered near a Thai Karen village and they report that many more may soon arrive. The new refugees come from the village of Meh Kreh located among the Dawna Mountains in eastern Hlaing Bwe township of central Karen State. The villagers cited many motives for fleeing villages in the area, the most salient being the increasing use of forced labour by the SPDC. All villages in the area are compelled to send people for forced labour, the only variation being the degrees of severity and frequency. (Source: KHRG)

On 18 January international relief workers reported that recent campaigns by the Burmese army against Karen guerrillas have displaced up to 30,000 people in eastern Burma. As part of their effort to cut off support to insurgent forces, the Burmese army has for the past few months increased their use of scorched-earth tactics in the hill area between the Sittang and Bilin rivers. As numerous villages have been burned down their inhabitants have been forced to flee to the nearby hills. Aid workers expressed concern about the Karens’ welfare, reporting that many are starving and suffering from diseases such as malaria, typhoid and diarrhea. It is predicted that this current campaign by the Burmese army will trigger a fresh influx of refugees into Thailand. (Source: Burmanet)

On the same day, 81 Karen villagers arrived in Bor Wi, Thailand reporting that they had to flee after SPDC troops torched their homes inside Burma. The refugees said that they had to leave more than 40 of their elderly and ill relatives who were unable to make the arduous journey. One of the villagers, Pert, age 24, said the group had walked eight days through the jungle after Burmese troops raided their settlement at Mae Kong Ni in eastern Burma, killing one Karen man and taking another 17-year-old woman away. Her fate is not known. “I can’t remember how many times we’ve moved on. We have to hide in the jungle to save our lives,” said Pert, who uses only one name. “I miss home but I don’t dare to go back,” he said at the camp, set up 10 kilometers (six miles) inside Thailand. A volunteer who works with displaced civilians at the border, feared there could be hundreds more trapped inside Burma opposite Ratchaburi province. The volunteer, who requested anonymity, believed that 200 or more villagers had been heading toward the border near Bor Wi, Thailand but had either gotten lost or were forced into hiding in the forest. The group at Bor Wi arrived in Thailand Dec. 20 with virtually no personal possessions. “Five years ago, life was very different,” said one villager, who did not want to be named, referring to when they lived in an area under KNU control. “I lived well and I didn’t have to hide. There was plenty of food.” The plight of the Karens in this area of the border, opposite Thailand’s western Ratchaburi province, has worsened over the past year amid growing military pressure from Yangon forces, according to local residents. Thailand has also tightened its control over the frontier, cutting off sources of basic supplies. (Source: AP)

March:

On March 3 about 500 Shan villagers, including men, women and children, were driven out of their villages by SPDC troops from IB330 and IB224, causing them to seek refuge along the border in Thailand’s Chiangrai Province. The refugees were from Murng Tum, Murng Kaan, Murng Long and Naa Yaao villages in Murng-Sart township and Murng Kok and Murng Lung villages in Murng-Phyak township. Earlier SPDC troops had gone to those villages and ordered them to move out within 24 hours. The soldiers threatened that any village that failed to move in time would be burned down. The refugees reached Thailand on March 3 and are camping in a location near Mae Maw village. They are facing difficulties trying to get work to feed their families because there is little wage-earning work and no land to farm in the area. (Source: SHRF)

April:

On 3 April Shan reported that since the previous week hundreds of people who had been forced by SPDC troops to leave their villages have been arriving in Thailand. Since 27 March, at least 600 villagers, the majority of them Shans and Akhas, from village tracts east of Monghsat Township have arrived at Therdthai Tract, Mae Fah Luang District, Chiangrai Province. Local Thai authorities have given the refugees temporary shelter near Phyaphrai village in Therdthai Tract. “We hope we are not driven back in a hurry, because we won’t be able to go back to our old homes and farms,” said a refugee from Nayao Tract. “They have been taken over by the Wa.” (Source: SHAN)

July:

On 18 July DKBA soldiers staged a surprise attack on a KNU border camp. The attack lasted about 20 minutes and then the camp was overrun by Burmese troops. Thai authorities reported that 194 Karen civilians fled from the camp and had sought refuge in Tha Song Yang district, in Tak province. About 200 other guerillas and their families abandoned the camp, which is located on the Thai border, and fled inside Burma. (Source: Burmanet)

On 23 July flash floods hit the Baan Mae Surin detention site, home to more than 10,000 displaced persons in Khun Yuam district, destroying 18 houses. The flood also damaged 31 other houses in the area but no casualties were reported. Non-stop rain over the past few days has left roads to the area impassable. “Scores of Karen families in the area are suffering food shortages and the damaged road prevents food-laden vehicles from reaching the area to provide assistance to these people,” reported someone at the scene, adding that five ill residents could not be taken to hospital. (Source: Burmanet)

August:

On 14 August it was reported that Thai and UNHCR officials have put on hold their plan to repatriate more than 5,000 illegal immigrants from Burma who are currently living in a refugee camp in Tha Song Yang district. UNHCR officials have determined that the current political situation in Burma makes it unsafe for the refugees to return. The repatriation of 5,606 illegal immigrants from Mae La refugee camp was slated to begin on Sunday. (Source: Burmanet)

September:

On 4 September the small camp of Chumphorn was relocated to Ban Don Yang. Some 266 refugees were relocated without incident, with only a few Chumphorn residents choosing to “disappear”. (Source: BBC)

On 23 September Thai military sourced reported that they have stepped up security around a major refugee camp on the Burma border, as a result of rumours that it was targeted for attack by the DKBA. Thai army sources report that the DKBA planned to torch the Ban Bae Koh refugee camp in Tak province’s Tha Song Yang district, in retaliation for a KNU killing of one of their leaders. KNU leaders also report hearing rumours of possible attacks on Mae La camp. (Source: Burmanet)

October:

On 2 October information sources on the border reported that SPDC troops operating in Karen State have been forcing resident Muslims to leave unless they convert to Buddhism or Hinduism. This campaign of forced conversion is causing an unusually large outflow of Muslim refugees to Thailand. The majority of these refugees go to Mae La, the largest Burmese refugee camp in Thailand, where currently one new arrival out of three is Muslim. (Source: Burmanet)

November

On 6 November, 63 asylum seekers who had arrived in Thong Pha Phum District on 25th October, were sent back to Burma through the Mon cease-fire area at Halochanee. These people had been interviewed upon arrival by UNHCR who confirmed that they were fleeing from a dangerous situation and requested that the Thai government grant them temporary asylum. Their case was rejected at a PAB meeting without UNHCR representatives present, and their deportation was ordered. UNHCR, NGOs and a number of embassies sent letters of concern to the Thai authorities, considering this a clear case of ‘refoulement.’ Fears for the safety of the deportees was based on the fact that as ethnic Karens it was dangerous for them to be sent back to a Mon cease-fire area. These concerns proved valid on 21st November, when the settlement they had moved to was attacked and destroyed by the Burmese Army. Following the attack the entire Karen population of up to 800 had no choice but to evacuate to the Mon camp at Halochanee. Here, while they remained prohibited from entering Thailand, one of the 63 original deportees was shot and forced to have a leg amputated. Further pleas by the international community to allow the Karen at Halochanee into Thailand were to no avail. At the beginning of 2002, fighting at the Baleh Donpai section of Halochanee, drove the Karen population to seek refuge in Thailand, only to be sent back the next day. At the time of writing their situation remains critical. (Source: BBC)

On 11 November, the Committee for Internally Displaced Karen People (CIDKP) reported that nine Myanmar army battalions had recently launched attacks on Karen settlements in three areas of Papun district in Karen State, forcing many to flee toward the border with Thailand. CIDKP reported that the attacks, which began shortly after midnight on Nov. 11, have driven at least 800 people from their homes. Most fled with only the clothes on their backs, and among those fleeing were over 70 children from a primary and middle school that was located on the Bilin river. (Source: CIDKP)

December:

On 26 December the Ler Ber Her refugee settlement was attacked yet again by SPDC troops. The people living here had originally set up camp on the Burmese side of the Moei River in late 1998. NGOs provided some limited assistance, and the refugee population grew to 4,000. In April 2000 the Burmese army overran the camp, and the refugees were evacuated into Thailand. All the refugees were given the opportunity to stay in Mae La, and some chose to do so. A number of others ‘disappeared’, and a group of about 2,000 went back across the river to reestablish a settlement near Ler Ber Her. In July 2000, Ler Ber Her was once again attacked and the refugees were again briefly evacuated into Thailand. Soon after a number of them returned again to Ler Ber Her but BBC stopped sending rice in December 2000, because they were unable to monitor the situation and considered the camp location unsafe. The camp population had declined further when Ler Ber Her was attacked again on 26th December 2001. This time around 200 people escaped into Thailand. The following day Ler Ber Her was burnt to the ground and the number of refugees rose to 400. (Source: BBC)

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. 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 are not Burmese citizens. 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.

Bangladesh

In 1991 more than 250,000 Rohingya refugees fled from Burma to the Bangladeshi district of Cox’s Bazaar to escape atrocities committed by the military government during a crackdown on Rohingya in Arakan State. Since that time more than 31,500 children have been born and nearly 7,500 refugees have died in the camps. In 1996, between 10,000 and 15,000 new asylum seekers entered Bangladesh as the result of increased forced labor, heavy taxation on Muslims and cases of rape in Arakan State. New refugees were not welcomed by the Bangladeshi authorities, and in April of 1996, 15 women and children who were part of a group of asylum seekers drowned in the Naf river as they were being brought back to Burma by border authorities. The majority of refugees were repatriated before 1997 as the result of agreements between Burma, Bangladesh and the UNHCR worked out in 1992. However, the agreement contained no provisions for impartial screening of the refugees before they went back or for monitoring their well-being when they return. The majority of the refugees who were initially repatriated did so involuntarily and there are reports that the authorities in Bangladesh with held food and used beatings to force people to return home. 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. 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 a between 10,000 and 15,000 Rohingya arrived in Bangladesh in 1997, as well as 1996, but because they didn’t enter 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. One commander of the border security forces stated, “If caught, we are pushing [refugees] back or sending them to jails”.

As of 2001, there were approximately 21,500 refugees living in UNHCR-run refugee camps and temporary shelters in Noryapara (Ukhia) and Kutuplong (Teknaf) in Phalongchake Township, Cox’s Bazaar. This number does not include those Rohingya refugees who live outside the camps, and are thus undocumented. UNHCR estimates that a more realistic total number of Rohingya refugees in Bangladesh is 100,000, and the Bengali press puts the number as high as 250,000. The Burmese government has agreed to take back only 7,000 of these, saying the rest are not Burmese nationals. The UNHCR requested that the Bangladeshi authorities allow the remaining 14,300 Rohingyas to settle in Bangladesh, but this request was turned down. As of July 2001, 50 refugees were supposed to be repatriated each week, but in reality the repatriation is proceeding much more slowly. UNHCR figures show that in the first 6 months of 2001 only 209 refugees had been repatriated back to Burma. This number was offset by the natural population growth in the refugee camps.

As a result of this, the Bangladeshi government has been pushing Rangoon to expedite repatriation. Among Rangoon’s conditions for repatriation were that repatriated refugees must not be from a split family to avoid people illegally going back to Bangladesh to meet family members left behind. In January 2001 the repatriation of Rohingya refugees came to a halt due to tensions along the border between the Burmese and Bangladeshi militaries.

Rohingya refugees living outside the camps suffer abuses common to illegal migrants in Thailand. They must work for extremely low pay in poor conditions, sometimes in situations tantamount to slavery. As illegal migrants can be forced to serve prison sentences for not having proper documentation, most live in fear of immigration raids. Rising racial tensions between local communities in Bangladesh and Rohingya refugees exacerbates the situation, with Rohingyas accused by local and national leaders of smuggling weapons and drugs to armed insurgent groups in India and Bangladesh. The Rohingya deny these claims, but continue to suffer frequent harassment by the police.

There continue to be Rohingya refugees arriving Bangladesh, but not in large numbers and it is difficult to ascertain the exact number as many of them enter with valid permits for one week and then become migrant workers. In addition there is large scale trafficking of Rohingya from Bangladesh to Pakistan. Apart from these registered refugees in the camps, there are estimated twenty thousand Muslim refugees who are scattered in the Chittagong Hills and other areas of Bangladesh having run away from the two refugee camps.

160 Rohingyas arrested in Cox’s Bazaar

On 4 September 2001, it was reported that in the previous two weeks approximately 160 Arakanese Rohingya Muslims have been arrested by Bangladesh police in the Teknaf area of Cox’s Bazar district in Southern Chittagong. Many of these people have lived for years in the villages of the Cox’s Bazar district. Those arrested have been put in jail while the police continue mounting an operation against the Rohingyas living illegally in the area. Arrest of Rohingya settlers by the police is a regular phenomenon in the Cox’s Bazar and Bandarban districts of Bangladesh.
(Source: ARNO)

Military junta forcing Muslims to flee

October 20, 2001 increasing pressure on Muslim inhabitants of Arakan State by the SPDC has recently compelled many of them to flee across the border into Bangladesh. Abdul Hakim 42, from Fakira Bazar in Arakan State, reported that his family, along with two other families fled their homes across the border on October 15 and are currently living with relatives in the village of Gundhum, just over the Bangladesh side of the border. Abdul Hakim stated that many other Muslim families had also fled recently from different villages in the northern part of Maungdaw as a result of increasing oppressive measures against them, lack of security and economic hardship. (Source: Arakan News Agency)

Malaysia

According to UNHCR figures, there are currently 5,100 Muslim Rohingya refugees in Malaysia. A 2000 Human Rights Watch Report criticized both the UNHCR and the Malayasian Government’s treatment of Rohingya in Malaysia, saying that the “treatment of the Rohingya falls short of internationally accepted standards,” and the treatment of refugees from Burma is “bad and getting worse.” Rohingya refugees in Malaysia are considered illegal immigrants even if they are recognized by the UNHCR and are at constant risk of arrest. There is no asylum system in Malaysia, which is not a signatory to the Convention Relating to the Status of Refugees. Malaysia is selective in which refugees groups it recognizes and the Rohingya have been refused recognition despite the fact that their situation has been deteriorating in recent years. The HRW report also criticized the Malaysian police and immigration officers, saying that they are ignorant of what it is to be a refugee and that because detainees are kept out of the view of international monitors, they are beaten, robbed, inadequately fed and denied medical care in detention camps. Rohingya children are often not allowed to go to school and have been detained with adult non-relatives and deported alone. The report also says that the UNHCR has not fulfilled its role to provide international protection and seek durable solutions.

In 2001 it was reported that Malaysia was increasing police raids to crack down on illegal immigrants. During one of these raids on February 11th, 2001 a Burmese woman fleeing from police fell into an abandoned mining pool and drowned. (Source: Burmanet)

Situation of Chin Refugees in India

There are an estimated 40,000 to 50,000 Chin, an ethnic and religious minority in Burma and Lushai, living in Mizoram State, India. In a decision criticized by the US Committee for Refugees (USCR), HRW, and Amnesty International, the Indian government made a decision to deport hundreds of ethnic Chin living in the northeastern region back to Burma. A USCR spokesman said that the Chin should be treated as refugees because they fled Burma due to persecution and that their forced repatriated could constitute refoulment, or forced return, which is contrary to international law. India is not a signatory to the 1951 Refugee convention but is a member of UNHCR’s Executive Committee.

On January 14th 2001, the UNHCR office in India informed Burmese refugees living in New Delhi that due to budget cuts, they would no longer provide them with a monthly subsistence allowance. Currently there are approximately 800 Burmese refugees living in New Delhi who are officially recognized by UNHCR and receive a monthly stipend of US $30 per person. Burmese refugees have strongly protested this, stating that it is very difficult for them to obtain work in India. Since 1999 the Indian government has issued residential permits to most of the Burmese refugees in Delhi. (Source: Mizzima)

Chin immigrants being evicted from Mizoram

On 27 September 2001 it was reported that thousands of Chin nationals who are currently living in Lunglei District of Mizoram State are being forced out by a powerful local Mizo organization, according to Chins who fled from Mizoram to New Delhi. forty eight year old Pu Pan Tu reported that he was forced to leave his home in Lunglei District after a local branch of the Young Mizo Association (YMA) issued an eviction notice stating that all “foreigners” staying illegally in the area had to leave their houses. He had lived in Lunglei District for more than ten years. In Lunglei district, Chin families from Burma live primarily in five areas: Ramthar Veng, Salem Veng, Electric Veng, Chanmari Veng and Farm Veng house. The majority survive on low-paid day-wage jobs. On August 18 2001, the Ramthar Veng Branch of the Young Mizo Association widely circulated a statement ordering all foreigners and non-Mizos living illegally in the area to leave their houses by the end of August. The YMA further warned that action would be taken against those Mizos who try to hide Chins in their homes. Similar eviction announcements were made in other adjoining localities. On September 8, the Salem Branch of the Young Mizo Association made an announcement that all the foreigners and non-Mizos had to leave the area by September 15 and urged local property owners not to rent houses to any “illegal foreigners”. This announcement appeared in a daily newspaper, the Lunglei Times.

“Following the announcement, some YMA members came into our house and broke our dishes and threatened us not to dare to live here anymore”, recalled Pu Pan Tu who lived in Ramthar Veng with his family of five. “The worst is that YMA even does not allow us to bury those who died in the locality. We are forced to bury the body in far away villages. For us, there is no place even to bury our body after we die”.

Pu Pan Tu escaped to New Delhi with two friends, to try and alert other Chins, Indian NGOs and the UNHCR Office in New Delhi to the oppression of Chins in Mizoram. According to local reports, there are over 5,000 Chin nationals from Burma living in Lunglei District, and some NGOs estimate that the total number of Burmese immigrants in the entire state of Mizoram is around fifty thousand, however exact numbers are not available. The new campaigns against “foreigners” (Chins) in Lunglei District, have caused some families to leave their homes already, moving to remote villages and border areas. Many of those fleeing try to rent new houses in villages, by pretending to be Mizo nationals. The Mizoram state government officials and YMA leaders claim that the large numbers of Chins in the state threaten the economic, political and social stability of Mizoram. These authorities have tried several times previously to deport Chin immigrants, but have been forced to halt deportations due to protests of international and Indian NGOs and human rights organizations.

In July 2001 Mizoram Chief Minister Mr. Zoramthanga gave an interview where he expressed concern over the large number of Chin immigrants in the state. He further stated that he wanted the border with Burma to be fenced in order to check further immigration of Chins into Mizoram. The Mizoram government claims that more than 75% of the crimes and drug-related activities in the state are being committed by the people from Burma. (Source: Mizzima)

Situation of Burmese Nagas in India

Ethnic discrimination, forced labor, and economic hardship have forced an estimated four thousand Christian Nagas to leave Burma and take refuge in India. The majority of these immigrants are currently living in Manipur and Nagaland. In an interview with the Mizzima News Group, Mr L. Longsa, General Secretary of the Naga National League for Democracy (NNLD), reported that Nagas from Burma continue to leave their villages in the Naga Hills due to forced labor and military campaigns launched by the Burmese army. Sixty mile-long Htamanthi-Layshi is one of the roads in the Naga Hills area where the SPDC continues to use forced labor.

Mon District and Tunsang District of Nagaland, are home to approximately three thousand Nagas from Burma who fled to India after their villages were burnt down by the Burmese army in its attacks on NSCN (Khaplang) camps in Burma last year. The National Socialist Council of Nagaland (Khaplang) is one of the separatist Naga armed groups fighting India. These refugees have come from various areas in the Naga Hills including the towns of Hkanti, Layshi, Nanyun, Lahel and Homelinn.

While there has been no recent major influx of Naga refugees to India, Nagas from Burma continue to cross over the Indian border in small number almost everyday to escape abuses of the SPDC army. These refugees, who settle in remote and difficult terrain, are able to survive by working in hill farms or by the limited support that they received from local churchs. So far they have received no support from international humanitarian organizations.

While there are no current accurate census records available, the Naga population in Burma is estimated to be around 500,000. (Source: Mizzima)

Other Refugee Issues

Burmese seeking U.S. asylum held in Guam

23 January 2001 it was reported that in the last few months, more than 700 people have fled Burma and sought political asylum in the US protectorate of Guam. The asylum seekers were able to enter Guam due to a visa loophole designed to encourage tourism, which allows citizens of Asian countries to enter without a visa. However, due to a backlog in the system for processing such cases and the fact that there are no asylum officials on the island, the refugees have been trapped in Guam, potentially having to wait months for the U.S. Justice Department to consider their pleas. Currently Burmese refugees stranded on Guam are living in very crowded conditions, as they are ineligible for work permits or government aid, they are forced to survive on handouts from church groups. The majority of them are left to pursue their asylum claims on their own, as they cannot afford to hire the few local attorneys willing to help. Thirty-eight of the refugees have spent months locked up in the Guam Detention Center because they answered honestly at the airport when asked if they intended to seek asylum in the U.S. or to stay in Guam for just 15 days. Under detention, family members who arrived together have been separated for months. One pregnant woman was kept in isolation in a cramped, locked cell for four months because officials feared that she might be carrying tuberculosis and were afraid, because of her pregnancy, to conduct a chest X-ray. Currently international church groups are lobbying the US government to allow the refugees to enter the US. The INS had taken the position that the rules of the visa-waiver program mean they can neither release those in custody nor permit others to travel to the mainland United States. This week however, INS officials stated that the agency has agreed to ease its stance and release the Burmese in custody in Guam, and will consider permitting them to relocate to the mainland United States while their asylum claims are pending.
(Source: Burmanet)

 

14. 4 Personal Accounts

(Source: Pa-O Human Rights Watch, “Pa-O Relocated to Thailand: Views from Within,”Christensen & Kyaw)

TaSee Charaa Mu

Former medic (about 38 years old)

My home town is near Hsi Hseng in southern Shan State. I was a tea trader so I went north to Panglong area to buy tea. One day I met a friend. She told me that if I wanted to be a medic the training would be free. So I went with her and joined the Communist (Red) Pa-O army. I was told I would work at the central hospital, but we were always moving around in the forest. There were no people. It was a place for bears and tigers. I wanted to go home, but I could not; I was sad and often cried. I was wounded.

When I left the Red Pa-O I stayed at Pan Ta Wee, a Shan village, east of Hsi Hseng toward the Salween River. There were about 200 houses. I stayed there for several years and I served as a medic to earn money. I got married and had eight children. Two of my girls (four and six years old) died after being sick for only a few days.

A unit of the Burmese army was stationed nearby. The Shan rebel army came through our village. They thought we were cooperating with the Burmese army. The leader of the Shan soldiers gave a threatening letter to the village headman. After the Shan left, the headman informed the Burmese soldiers, who promised to protect the village.

The headman then sent a note to the Shan saying, “If you want food, we have no rice only chilis [bullets].” A short time later, the Burmese commander who had promised to protect the village left with most of his men. Only 15 soldiers stayed in the camp near the village.

The next night about 10:00 p.m. the Shan soldiers came into the village. They surrounded the village headman’s house, took him prisoner, and beat him. He said, “If you came to fight the Burmese soldiers, there are only 15 of them.” They told him that they had come to kill the villagers. They shot him and his family, including his children and grandchildren. The soldiers shot people and burned houses. Those who tried to run away were captured and brought back and made to sit in a group. The commander told the soldiers, “That is enough, leave enough for seed.” But the young soldiers said, “We need to kill more!” He shouted back, “Enough! Enough!” But the soldiers began shooting the villagers. I saw them fall over one by one. The man next to me was shot and fell over on me. Another man was yelling in pain and one of the Shan bayoneted and shot him. Then he was silent. They also killed people like chickens-they cut their throats.

I had a bullet wound in my upper arm. So I pretended to be dead. They bayoneted me in the side. I tried to stay quiet. When they went away at about 1:00 a.m. I covered the wound in my side with a towel, but I was still bleeding. I saw that all the houses were burned down. Many had old or handicapped people in them. The soldiers didn’t seem to be human. They killed about sixty people. Some villagers from nearby came and gave me an injection to stop the bleeding. They took me to Lan Kae hospital were I was given medicine. The bayonet had penetrated almost to my heart. The doctor told me I was very lucky. During the winter season when it is cool, even now, I have pain.

My life is too hard. I am very poor, but I want to stay in a peaceful place. I was unable to bring my horse and household things from our camp on the border.

Sometimes I think I will go crazy.

TaSee Charaa Mu fled from Pan Ta Wee to a village near the Thai border. Soldiers from a Burmese army camp nearby harassed the villagers. Her village fled into Thailand when fighting broke out between Shan insurgent soldiers and the Burmese army. They were given a choice by the Thai authorities to either return to Shan State or go to a refugee camp. TaSee Charaa Mu is staying in a Karenni refugee camp in Mae Hong Son Province near the Thai-Burma border. She and her family have enough clothes and food, but there is little to do. A number of Pa-O who also went to the camp at the same time have left to return to the northern part of the province where they try to survive by hillside farming or by working on small farms near the border.

Lo Pra

Former soldier, traditional healer (62 years old)

A long time ago (late 1960s, early 1970s) when I was a Pa-O soldier, I fought against Shan soldiers near Moung Koun, northeast of Taunggyi in southern Shan State. The Shan wanted to control all of the rebel groups fighting against the Burmese army in Shan State. So we fought against the Shan as well as the Burmese army.

I and my friend were 2nd lieutenants in the Pa-O army. We were staying at a house when we heard two men come up the steps at 4:00 a.m. The door opened and one of them asked the old woman who lived there, “Is anyone else sleeping here?” She replied, “I’m the only one here.” The man said, “Don’t lie to me, if you do I will beat you. I know somebody is here.”

We were sleeping with our rifles. When they came in the door they saw us. As they stepped back my friend shot them and they fell. We fled the house. There was heavy fighting between our soldiers and theirs. One of our men was shot in the face and killed. The Shan had more soldiers than we did, but they retreated when we killed two more of their men.

One of my friends was very lucky. He was hit, but the bullet lodged in a packet of sugar cane in his pack. I told him he was fortunate to have gone to the market earlier in the day.

One time we fought with the Burmese soldiers near Panglong. A passing Chinese trader overheard us planning our attack and told the Burmese captain. The captain replied, “They won’t attack. They are afraid of us.” We did attack and captured seven of their rifles.

I had joined the Pa-O army after Bo San Thein was killed (in 1968) by a Shan officer. All of the important Pa-O leaders were in prison and those now leading the Pa-O began to listen to the Communists who were sent to win them over. When the Pa-O leaders were released and returned, the Pa-O army split into two groups the Nationalist Pa-O and the Communist (Red) Pa-O. They began fighting each other in 1973. I stayed on with the Red Pa-O. We wore Mao Tse Tung pins on our uniforms. After six months I got sick and retired. The Burmese soldiers were happy that we fought each other like dogs biting each other instead of them. I was a soldier for seven years.

I went back to my home village. Some of the Red Pa-O soldiers surrendered to the Burmese army and they knew that I had gone home. Because I was afraid they might tell the Burmese soldiers where I was, I left and went to another village.

I thought about why the Pa-O fight each other. I don’t want to be involved in this situation. Even now when I think about the Pa-O and why they fight and kill each other I am very sad. I settled in a village on the west side of the Salween River in southern Shan State. In 1978, the Burmese army told the headman that we would have to move to an army-controlled “relocation area.” We decided to move to the border near Thailand instead. It took us three days of traveling and we had to leave most of our things behind, but it was very nice there. There was good soil beside the stream; we could grow many crops including rice, chilies, corn, and even coffee and tea on the hillsides. A detachment of the Pa-O army had a camp on a hill overlooking the village.

In March of 1984 Khun Sa, the drug lord, attacked the camp and village. The camp was burned and our houses were looted. We fled across the border into Thailand. After six months, however, the Thai authorities forced us to leave. We crossed back into Burma, this time into Karenni State. We stayed there, farming rice, for four years. The valley where our village was located was attacked and occupied by the Burmese army and again we fled across the border into Thailand, this time to an uninhabited forested area. It had a good water supply and we cleared the hillsides to plant rice. After about five years of fighting the Burmese army captured all the rebel positions on the border. They began to send patrols into Thailand. We were afraid, especially for our women, so we moved again, a kilometer or two farther into the Thai forest. Still the Burmese soldiers came, asking for food and taking our chickens, paying us only half of what they were worth. We also lost all of our horses and cows (about twenty). They would wander off at night, a few at a time, to return to our old village location where water and grass were plentiful. The Burmese soldiers took them prisoner and wouldn’t return them. In the middle of the rainy season of 1996 we moved to a nearby village where the headman let us stay. We have been here since then. We have moved many times, but we have stayed together. We are safe now.

I learned traditional Pa-O medicine by studying books and talking with the monks in a monastery. I have practiced it for many years. I also learned about Pa-O literature at the monastery. I would like to pass on my knowledge to the younger generation but they don’t seem to be interested.

I am old and have no one to take care of me.

Sometimes I have no food.

Lo Pra lives in a village near the Thai-Burma border. He stays alone in a small bamboo and thatch hut in a corner of the village. Lo Pra is too old to farm the nearby hills as do most of the men in the village. Once in a while he will be asked to practice his traditional medicine for which he receives a small fee.  


 

BURMESE BORDER REFUGEE SITES WITH POPULATION FIGURES  - DECEMBER 2001

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