In Unprecedented Move, Burma Authorities Donate to Thailand Refugee Camp

By Saw Yan Naing 4 April 2013

In an unprecedented move, Burmese state authorities made donations to a refugee camp in Thailand on Wednesday, to support ongoing relief efforts for the refugees who were caught in a deadly fire on March 22.

Authorities from Karenni State, which lies a short distance across the Thai-Burma border from Ban Mae Surin camp in Mae Hong Son Province, donated 10 million kyat (US $11,000) to Karenni refugees who were affected by the fire that killed 38 people, wounding more than 100 and displacing more than 2,300.

The delegation arranged for the cash to be delivered to Ban Mae Surin, one of the most remote refugee camps in Thailand, by the Karenni National Progressive Party.

Individuals also donated “blankets, mosquito nets, clothes donated by local people and 500 bags of rice by Nippon Foundation to the fire victims through Myanmar Peace Centre [MPC],” according to The New Light of Myanmar, the main state-run newspaper.

On Thursday afternoon, in a phone interview with The Irrawaddy, camp leader Shally Than said some of the donations had already arrived at the camp.

Hla Maung Shwe, a representative of the MPC, said the donations were made by the Nippon Foundation, but denied that the MPC had anything to do with the funds.

He added that several top ministers, including chief peace negotiator and head of the MPC Aung Min, had personally donated about 1 million kyat each, making the total donations from the MPC and ministers 8 million kyat.

The Karenni State government also used the aid delivery to call on refugees return to Karenni State, promising basic welfare support.

“Kayah [Karenni] State government offers the national people from the relief camps in Thailand to return home and will provide basic needs to them when they arrive in the native regions,” read the newspaper.

Sally Thompson, the director of The Border Consortium (TBC), a humanitarian aid agency that provides food and supplies to Burmese refugees in Thailand, said that she had not been in contact with the donors.

Thompson, however, said that the reconstruction process will start next week.

There are more than 140,000 Burmese refugees, mostly ethnic Karen, living in camps in Thailand. Most fled Burmese military attacks.

The Burmese government has signed ceasefire agreements with ethnic armed groups and pressure has been applied to get enemies of the former ruling junta to join the Burmese army-controlled Border Guard Force.

Pressure has also been applied by the Thai authorities to repatriate the refugees.