RATIONS have been cut for refugees living in camps on the Thai
/Burma border, the head of a consortium of charities said last
month, after a "very significant shortfall in funds".
Sally Thompson, the executive director of the Border Consortium,
a Christian Aid partner, said that international donors had been
redirecting funds to immediate crises such as that in Syria. There
was a "lack of mechanisms to deal with protracted refugee crises. .
. Refugees quickly become yesterday's story, and it's difficult to
sustain an interest."
Refugees have lived in camps on the Thai/Burma border since
1984, having fled conflict in south-east Burma. In December, there
were 110,607 living in nine camps. Half were under 19 and were born
in the camps.
The Consortium is increasingly focusing on preparing the
refugees for life beyond the camps - a scenario that has grown more
likely since the onset of gradual reforms in Burma.
"At last there is a possibility that people may be able to
return - that is what we are hoping for," Ms Thompson said. "So we
are working to essentially shift people's mindset away from care
and maintenance towards self-reliance, making their own decisions
and taking responsibility for their lives where they can, given the
confined situation within the camps."
Ms Thompson said that, at present, all stakeholders, including
the UN, recognised the principle of voluntary return and that "the
situation is not right for the organised return of refugees." The
cease-fire and reform were "very fragile", she said. In the areas
from which the refugees had fled there was "ongoing militarisation"
and no agreement on troop withdrawals. It was "likely" that many
would not go back, but flow into the migrant communities of
Ms Morgan was in the UK for the awarding of the Ockenden prize
for work with refugees, for which the Consortium was shortlisted.
She was accompanied by Na Ta Mla Saw, joint secretary of the Karen
Women's Organisation, who fled her village in Burma, aged three,
and has lived in camps since the age of eight. Life was difficult,
she said, because the refugees were recognised neither by the Thai
nor the Burmese governments: "We are not allowed to go outside and
work or get further education. . . There is a lot of youth that
feel disappointed. It feels like you finish high school and can't
do things that you really want. . . It is really hard for me to
believe that they [the Burmese government] are committed to a peace
process and a ceasefire."
Luiz Kaypoe, secretary of the Kareni Refugee Committee, was also
present. He has lived in a camp since 1989, after fleeing the
military, with his family. "We make a joke that we are
international citizens," he said. "We go to Burma and we cannot get
citizenship and we go to Thailand and we cannot get citizenship. .
. We were born with chains on our feet."
Mr Kaypoe said that organisations such as his were struggling
because donors "started to plan for everything to move into
Myanmar, because it has changed; so there is a decreasing interest
in refuges". He urged Christians in Britain to bear in mind
Proverbs 11.24-25: "One person gives freely, yet gains even more;
another withholds unduly, but comes to poverty. A generous person
will prosper; whoever refreshes others will be refreshed."