UN assessing situation of Myanmar refugees in Thailand

9 June 2009The United Nations refugee agency today said that it is looking into the situation of a group of several thousand Karen people who recently fled across the Moei River from Myanmar to Thailand. Estimates of the number of people who escaped to northern Thailand since last Wednesday range from 2,000 to 6,400, and “one of the first things we would like to do is ascertain the number of people who are in the five sites near Mae Sot,” William Spindler, spokesperson for the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), told reporters in Geneva.The refugees are seeking shelter in temples and in homes in four villages, and in one case, in a cave accessible only by river and a 40-minute climb up a steep mountain.Mr. Spindler said that according to preliminary talks with some new arrivals, “it seems some were fleeing actual fighting between the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, which is allied with Government forces, and the rebel Karen National Union (KNU). Others say they were fleeing forced recruitment or forced labour by Government forces.”A number of the recently-arrived refugees were already uprooted in Myanmar and living in the Ler Per Her camp for internally displaced persons (IDPs) run by the KNU in Karen-held territory, he noted.According to people from the camp, everyone sheltering there fled to Thailand after it was shelled, the spokesperson said.Many of the refugees brought supplies with them, and aid agencies are also providing them with necessities, such as food, mosquito nets, pots, pans and blankets, while UNHCR has distributed plastic sheeting.“Most of the new arrivals say they want to stay as close to their villages as possible in order to go home quickly once the situation calms down because they left cattle behind and because it is time to begin planting rice,” Mr. Spindler said, adding that UNHCR is working closely with Thai authorities to best respond to the needs of the new arrivals.In February, the agency said that there were some 111,000 registered refugees living in nine camps along the Thai-Myanmar border, who are restricted from leaving the camps and as a result unable to earn a living or receive higher education.

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