UNHCR requests urgent humanitarian access to thousands stuck on Burma-Thai border as onslaught continues

UNHCR requests urgent humanitarian access to thousands stuck on Burma-Thai border as onslaught continues

Heavy fighting between the army and a combined force of Karen National Union (KNU) troops and their allies around Lay Kay Kaw has, since Dec. 15, compelled between 4,000 to 10,000 people into Thailand over recent days.

As fighting continues, hundreds more displaced people are currently stuck on the banks of the Moei (Thaung Yin) River, awaiting permission to enter camps on the Thai side.  

“Yesterday, about 5,000 people were waiting to cross the border because the Thai side blocked the crossing. There were about 2,500 and it increased to 5,000 due to the continuous clashes,” said a displaced Burmese man who spoke to DVB on Monday.

As numbers entering the camps increase, those inside are facing mounting challenges as sufficient aid fails to arrive.

“Refugees from the Burmese side are drinking water from the Moei River and this is causing some diarrhea,” he explained.  He added that there are very few toilets in the areas where the displaced people have taken shelter. 

A woman who had recently crossed the border told DVB that there are up to 300 people suffering from diarrhoea in her IDP camp in the Thai village of Mae Tao.

“There were also about 50 people, including children and adults, who came to see the doctor in the camp only last night. I think it was caused due to the small number of toilets but more toilets and tents are being sent by the Thai government and civil society groups” she said.    

Meanwhile, the UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, has requested permission from Thai authorities to get access to those displaced by the clashes. “UNHCR, together with partners, reiterates to the Royal Thai Government its readiness to provide the necessary humanitarian assistance and protection support to the new arrivals,” said the UN agency in a statement issued Monday.

According to the Royal Thai Government, some 3,900 Burmese nationals have fled across the border since Dec. 16. However, sources close to Thai border officials yesterday told DVB they estimate that a total of almost 10,000 Burmese refugees have either crossed or are attempting to escape into Thai territory.

Hundreds more are said to still be crossing on Tuesday.

The UNHRC said that it is ready to provide the necessary humanitarian assistance and to provide protection and support to those arriving in camps on the Thai side, and mentioned that Thailand has a decades-long tradition and experience in providing international protection and assistance to fleeing persons seeking asylum, including those from Burma. 

Since troops moved into Lay Kay Kaw and the nearby villages of Metta Lin Myaing and Mae Htaw Talay and Phlu on Wednesday, the Thai government has established special shelters for refugees, and the Thai people and Burmese in Thailand are donating food and clothing. However, aid groups have not been able to reach the refugee camps, but have set up checkpoints not far from the camps and are accepting and distributing supplies. 

Khun Mon Khunn, an aid worker assisting refugees fleeing to Thailand, said refugees are in urgent need of food and drinking water, as well as sleeping bags, items for infants, womens’ sanitary products, and mosquito repellent.

The KNU said that it had thanked Thailand for allowing the refugees to cross the border as a result of the conflict, and urged authorities to continue to provide affordable accommodation.

The EAO—whose armed wing, the Karen National Liberation Army, has successfully repelled a number of attacks over the past days, claiming over one hundred military casualties—also called on the Thai government to grant international organizations access to the camps, and to provide assistance to those fleeing the military’s onslaught. 

Despite the losses, the Burmese army appears to be gearing up for a further push to take more territory around Lay Kay Kaw. On Monday local residents reported seeing a convoy of at least 14 army vehicles and two artillery vehicles enter Myawaddy. The convoy had come via the Eindu to Kawkareik stretch of the Asia highway, currently undergoing an internationally funded upgrade and widening. It has been reported that a number of local army units based in Kawkareik have been dispatched to the border to support the ongoing offensive against the KNU.

According to sources on the ground in Kayin State, on Sunday night, Kawnwe bridge on the outskirts of Kawkareik was hit by an explosion. The loss of Kawnwe bridge, a key crossing point on the Asia Highway, has caused long tailbacks as trucks destined for Burma begin to back up at the Mae Sot-Myawaddy Friendship Bridge. 

Than Lwin Khet Media reported that a KNU-affiliated PDF comrade was killed and around 14 others were injured during clashes on Sunday.