Food aid cut to Thailand refugee camps

Events have conspired to create a shortfall in funding for a prominent Thailand border aid group, meaning that food supplies to Burmese refugees in camps along the border is to be reduced.

A doubling in price of yellow bean, a critical foodstuff in camps along the Thai-Burma border that house some 140,000 refugees, means that from August this year the supply will be cut. The Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) says that it hopes the measure will only be temporary, but the group is facing a US$2.5 million shortfall in funding for this year.

“It’s largely down the change in exchange rate [that has caused the price-rise], but while some donors have increased our funding, others have reduced it,” said Sally Thompson, deputy director of TBBC.

The absence of yellow bean, one of the three main foodstuffs in the camps, will reduce daily energy content to just below 2000 kilocalories, Thompson said, adding that the figure was “still within the maintenance level for the population”.

“In the short-term we do not expect to see a deterioration in the health of the refugees, but we will monitor this through various health agencies.”

Refugees continue to arrive in the camps on an almost daily basis, the majority from Karen state in eastern Burma where the opposition Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) has been fighting a 60-year war against the Burmese military government.

Thompson said that “it is essential that Thai authorities allow these people to seek asylum on Thai soil”, and that TBBC would look for ways to maintain donor interest in the refugee situation “because it is  likely to be ongoing”.

But a man called Jipsy, who lives in the Mae La camp in Thailand’s Tha Song Yan district, said that the cut in food aid “will be difficult for the refugees who don’t have jobs”.

“Here, when you are given flour, then flour is your only food – the same thing applies to beans, whether some like eating it or not. So if [food] is no longer given, then it will be difficult for some people,” he said.

It mirrors a similar situation during the world food crisis in 2007 when TBBC, which has been active on the Thai-Burma border in various forms since 1984, was forced to cut supplies to camps. This year’s food rationing will begin in August but implementation will be staggered across the camps, Thompson said.

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