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Burmese refugees hit by reduced funding

13 March 2015

CHRISTIAN AID/AMANDA FARRANT

Lunch break: Burmese refugee children in Thailand 

Lunch break: Burmese refugee children in Thailand 

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 Thailand.

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."

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