The Irrawaddy

Donors Cut Financial Support to Refugee Camp Workers

Residents walk in Mae La Oo refugee camp in Mae Hong Son Province, northern Thailand. (Photo: Saw Yan Naing / The Irrawaddy)  

MAE SARIANG, Thailand — Some 10,000 community workers in nine refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border will be affected by financial cuts as funding declines, according to sources from the refugee community and aid agencies.

The cuts were announced at a meeting held by the international humanitarian agency The Border Consortium (TBC) in Mae Sot last weekend.

The reduced stipend for camp community workers will begin in July, said Saw Tu Tu, a leader within the Karen Refugee Committee (KRC) who attended the meeting.

Saw Tu Tu told The Irrawaddy at his office in Mae Sariang, Thailand: “They [TBC] will reduce human resources and financial support. They explained that support will be decreased because of a declining budget.”

KRC staffers in nine refugee camp are among those who will be affected by the declining funding.

“They said they will also reduce the number of KRC staffers,” said Saw Tu Tu.

There are around 10,000 community workers in positions like camp committee leader, health worker, teacher, warehouse manager and security staff, all of whom receive monthly stipends from NGOs, according to TBC.

Among the 10,000 workers, TBC funds some 2,800 people who are responsible for implementing programs such as food distribution; nutrition programs; livelihood, shelter, and camp management; and overall coordination of camp committees.

Sally Thompson, executive director of TBC, said: “Some elements of camp management are covered by specific donors, but most of the camp management administration and stipend costs are supported by general funds from donors and TBC is facing a decrease in funding from some of these donors.”

“As a result TBC is making cuts to some of its programs but also is in a continual process of downsizing as an organization and has reduced TBC staff in Thailand by 30 percent over the last 3 years,” she added.

The TBC budget for camp management, camp administration, stipend workers and CBOs is approximately USD$1.7 million, but funding has not been secured to cover all of these needs and therefore it is necessary to make cuts, Sally Thompson added.

“They [TBC] will reduce the community worker stipend by 30 perfect. So, if a worker received 1,000 baht per month before, they will receive only 700 baht per month in the future,” said Saw Tu Tu of the KRC.

International governments and donors have been cutting funding for humanitarian assistance in refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border as Burma’s peace process has gotten underway.

There are also preparations for a “volunteer” repatriation program being arranged by the Thai and Burmese governments along with INGOs such as the UN refugee agency, the International Organization for Migration (IOM) and Thai foundation Mae Fah Luang.

Volunteer Repatriation Centers are in all of the camps, facilitating the repatriation process for the refugees who wish to return home to Burma.

There are more than 100,000 refugees living on the Thai-Burma who fled civil war in Burma.