Refugees struggle as EU cuts aid

Burmese refugees living in camps along the Thai border say they have been receiving less food and housing material since the EU reduced border aid earlier this year, triggering concerns about the extent to which already difficult conditions in the camps will be exacerbated.

An official at the Umpiem camp, south of the Thai border town of Mae Sot, said that each house was receiving three wooden poles and only 30 sheets of leaf roofing – “not even enough to build a loo”.

He said that funding was cut in all major sectors of the camp, including food, health, education and social projects. “Now we no longer receive chilli, and rice was also cut down to 13.5kg from 15kg.”

Veerawit Tianchainan, director of the Thai Committee for Refugees, said that following the EU’s decision to cut funding, other civil society groups had followed suit.

During a visit to the populous Mae La camp in March, EU official Kristalina Georgieva told refugees that funding would be reduced as the bloc looks to develop capacity training for its inhabitants in areas like agriculture, livestock and handicrafts.

Nine official camps that house close to 145,000 Burmese, mostly Karen, exist along the Thai-Burma border. The EU has been providing aid since 1995, but announced this year that it would be increasing funding to civil society groups working inside Burma.

The decision to reduce financial assistance before completing career training was criticised by Surapong Kongchantuk, chairman of the sub-committee of the Lawyers’ Council of Thailand.

“If they want to bring comfort for the refugees, they should give them professional training to make them capable of looking after themselves, and then cut down the aid only after that.”

He said that the move compounded concerns about the future of refugees in Thailand, following the Thai government’s campaign to register illegal migrants. Those who do not register face deportation.

Burma was named in a recent UN report as the world’s fifth-highest source country for refugees, higher than that of Colombia and Sudan. Along with the 145,000 in camps in Thailand, the majority of whom have fled decades of conflict in neighbouring Karen state, more than 200,000 ethnic Rohingya live a precarious existence in unofficial camps in Bangladesh.

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