More than 3,000 Myanmar refugees deported from Thailand

The residents of Lay Kay Kaw fled to a farm across the river when the military started shelling in December.
More than 3,000 Myanmar refugees deported from Thailand Myanmar refugees, who have fled a flare-up in fighting between the Myanmar army and insurgent groups and settled temporarily on the banks of the Moei River (Thaung Yin in Burmese), receive aid from Thailand on the Thai-Myanmar border, in Mae Sot, Thailand January 4, 2022.
Photo: RFA

More than 3,000 Myanmar refugees are stranded on the Myanmar side of the Thaung Yin River after Thailand took down their makeshift tents at a cattle farm on the Thai side of the river and deported them, aid workers told RFA Monday.

The refugees are from Lay Kay Kaw, a town near the Thai border in Kayin state, but had set up camp at the Mae Ko Kin Cattle Farm to escape the violence that engulfed their town in mid-December.

Soldiers loyal to the military junta that took over the country in a coup last February entered Lay Kay Kaw on Dec. 14 to try to arrest people taking refuge there, including a former member of Parliament from the ousted opposition party and government employees who had participated in the civil disobedience movement by refusing to work.

When the military called in airstrikes and fired artillery shells into Lay Kay Kaw, the residents fled, with some escaping into Thailand.

Rather than returning to their hometown, the recently deported refugees are now staying in temporary huts along the river.

“After the Thai authorities shut down the camp over the past few days, there are no more people left in the camp. … There are around 3,000 to 4,000. They are too afraid to go home,” Ye Min, a volunteer from the Aid Alliance Committee, a Thailand-based migrant worker rights organization, told RFA’s Myanmar Service.

“They build shelters out of tarps on the banks of the river on the Myanmar side,” said Ye Min.

The 3,000 refugees who were recently deported join around 10,000 internally displaced people taking refuge in Myanmar villages near the border, Ye Min estimated.

Intense fighting broke out in the area in December, and about 20,000 people fled their homes to hide on both sides of the river.

Though many have returned home, some of the 20,000 refugees remain on the Thai side and have received support from local residents.

“We have a shortage of drinking water. Many of our children fell sick as there were heavy rains during the rainy season,” a refugee living on the riverbank, who requested anonymity for security reasons, told RFA.

“Many of us have diarrhea after consuming unclean water and food,” she said.

A constant downpour has added to their misery.

“Some people get soaked as the rains got into their tents. Some even simply dug pits and are living in the pits,” she said.

A member of a local armed ethnic group fighting the military junta told RFA that it is providing aid to the refugees.

“We have committees for helping them. We scrape to provide them with emergency foods and shelters,” Padao Saw Taw Nee, the foreign affairs officer of the Karen National Union, which administers territory controlled by the Karen National Liberation Army, told RFA.

“We’ve got at least four of five temporary refugee camps, where we feed them and give them humanitarian assistance. Aside from that, we are also giving them protection. As long as we cannot find the places safe for them to live, we will have to keep fighting these problems,” he said.

Several refugees said that not only were their homes, farms and livelihoods damaged by the fighting, but the military also looted their abandoned belongings. 

Even if it were safe to return home, some said it would be challenging to rebuild.

RFA attempted to contact junta spokesman Maj. Gen. Zaw Min Tun for comment but received no response.

The district chief of Mae Sot on the Thai side of the border declined to comments on the Myanmar refugees, and calls by RFA to the Tak provincial governor and foreign ministry were not answered Tuesday.

The Tak provincial border center did not have a recent update on the refugee situation.

Translated by Ye Kaung Myint Maung. Written in English by Eugene Whong.


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