Myanmar + 1 more

A comprehensive plan addressing the needs of displaced persons on the Thailand/ Myanmar (Burma) border in 2007/8

Situation Report
Originally published


1. Introduction

1.1 This 'Comprehensive Plan Addressing the Needs of Displaced Persons on the Thailand/Myanmar (Burma) Border in 2007/8' has been prepared by the Committee for the Coordination of Services to Displaced Persons in Thailand (CCSDPT) and the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) Regional Office in Bangkok.

1.2 The first CCSDPT/ UNHCR Comprehensive Plan was for 2006 and was drawn up through a participatory process during 2005. It was presented to the Royal Thai Government (RTG) at a workshop in December that year. The 2006 plan was then expanded for 2006/ 7 and presented to Donors at a Donor Forum in May 2006 also attended by the National Security Council (NSC) and the Ministry of Interior (MOI).

1.3 The Comprehensive Plan for 2007/8 draws on the earlier processes but this time also incorporates inputs from UNHCR's Strengthening Protection Capacity Project-Thailand (SPCP-Thailand). This was initiated in August 2006 and is another gap identification exercise aimed at improving the protection capacity of Thailand to receive and protect refugees, enhance their means of self-reliance and expand opportunities for durable solutions.

1.4 The result is a more complete document which summarises current protection and humanitarian assistance services in 2007, anticipated services in 2008 and gaps identified in each sector. For many of the most important gaps, specific project proposals with budget estimates are appended.

1.5 Implementation of the Comprehensive Plan will require ongoing cooperation between all stakeholders Specific challenges requiring action to move the plan forward are set out for CCSDPT/ UNHCR, the Donors and the RTG.

2. Background

2.1 Over the last three decades Thailand has hosted almost 3 million refugees. Currently around 150,000 refugees from Myanmar/ Burma live in 9 camps along the Thailand /Myanmar (Burma) border and at least 1,000 asylum-seekers reside in urban areas. In addition, more than 200,000 other Myanmar (Burma) refugees, including ethnic Shan fleeing human rights abuses in Shan State, are believed to be living outside the camps in Thailand.

2.2 The scope of this Comprehensive Plan is restricted to services to refugees in the 9 camps along the Thailand /Myanmar (Burma) border. The first camps were established in 1984 when around 9,000 refugees arrived in Thailand and CCSDPT members were invited by the MOI to provide basic humanitarian assistance. UNHCR was invited to provide protection under agreement with the RTG in 1998.

2.3 As the Myanmar (Burma) Army has taken control of ethnic areas in eastern Myanmar (Burma) new refugees have continued to arrive every year. Currently there are 20 NGO members of CCSDPT that provide humanitarian services in the camps under agreement with the Operations Centre for Displaced Persons (OCDP), MOI, and UNHCR undertakes its protection mandate through three field offices in Mae Hong Son, Mae Sot and Kanchanaburi. Programmes and services have been constantly revised and expanded over the years responding to developments in RTG policy, the conditions of encampment and current best practice in humanitarian assistance and refugee protection.


3.1 Whilst refugees have always, officially, been required to stay within camp boundaries, this has been progressively enforced over the years. Today the majority of refugees live their lives within the confines of their camps. Most have no access to employment opportunities, to forest products, or to external education or occupational training opportunities. Refugees caught outside the camps are liable to arrest and deportation.

3.2 This situation contrasts with that of migrant workers who have been progressively afforded more opportunities. Those registered have (restricted) rights to work and travel with access to health facilities.

3.3 The long term confinement of refugees has had negative psychological impact on camp residents resulting in increasing and serious mental health needs. In particular, as a new generation of refugees grows up entirely within a camp environment there is a need to address the special health, physical and social requirements of youth and adolescents.

3.4 The long term confinement of refugees has also created other growing protection concerns, particularly regarding levels of violence and the administration of justice in the camps which has been based on traditional systems. The international trend is to apply justice standards of the host nation in refugee camps, at least for serious offences such as rape and murder.

3.5 There is a global trend to challenge the protracted confinement of refugees, and it is increasingly acknowledged that all stakeholders benefit from allowing refugees the opportunity to realise their human potential. By doing so refugees can contribute to the host country economy and national security during their exile; be better prepared if they are given the opportunity to resettle in a third country; and contribute to the rebuilding of their own country when their day comes to return. In April 2005 CCSDPT/ UNHCR wrote a joint letter to the RTG advocating a comprehensive policy approach which would allow refugees more access to education and skills training and engage them in productive activities which would better equip them for the future, wherever that might be. This formed the basis for the first draft Comprehensive Plan.

3.6 In 2005 the RTG made welcome provisions for migrant worker and refugee children's' education through the establishment of special education centres affording Thai language instruction.

3.7 In 2006 the MOI gave NGOs permission to support occupational training activities aimed at practicing the skills to create work opportunity and income generation in the future. During the year the RTG made commitments to improve education in the camps and to experiment with employment outside the camps. A commitment was also made to issue individual ID cards to all registered refugees and distribution of these began on a camp by camp basis in April 2007.

3.8 As the security situation in Myanmar (Burma) continues to deteriorate, new asylum seekers continue to arrive in the camps. Camp boundaries have been fixed for a long time and although conditions vary considerably between camps, this has led to overcrowded housing conditions, in several camps significantly below UNHCR minimum standards, and a lack of adequate space for recreational and training/ educational purposes. In some camps it has also led to water shortages and sanitation problems.

3.9 Third countries have confirmed their strong interest and commitment to offer resettlement opportunities to Myanmar (Burmese) refugees. Around 4,500 camp residents departed in 2006 and numbers are expected to increase significantly in 2007. The opportunity of a new life for those refugees benefiting from resettlement is a welcome development and a key element of a comprehensive strategy to address the protracted refugee situation. As a significant number of community leaders and skilled refugees are applying for resettlement, appropriate measures need to be taken to ensure that their vital functions be timely replaced and services in the field of health, education and logistics continue to be effectively provided to the remaining population in camps.

3.10 Humanitarian assistance programmes are experiencing funding constraints due to donor priorities elsewhere in the world and growing programmatic demands whilst prices increase and foreign currency exchange rates continue to deteriorate against the Thai baht

3.11 The humanitarian assistance community is expanding in Myanmar (Burma) but until recently there has been little interaction between UN/ NGO/ CBO/ government players inside and outside the country. There is potential for more exchange of information and skills which will benefit the eventual return and integration of the refugees.