Repeated airstrikes by the Myanmar military have pushed thousands of Karen refugees across the Thai border into northern Thailand’s Mae Hong Son Province. About 2,000 Karen refugees have sought refuge in Mae Sariang and Khun Yuam districts, Mae Hong Son Governor Sithichai Jindaluang told a press conference on Tuesday.
“As for those who refuse to return or are unable to do so right now, the province will treat them under guidelines to be issued by the Thai government,” he said. But the governor added, “If the situation in Myanmar worsens and more refugees enter Thailand, the province may consider building a refugee center, subject to approval by the Interior Ministry.”
At least seven wounded Karen refugees have been admitted to three different hospitals in the province.
Thailand was initially criticized for refusing to admit refugees fleeing the Myanmar military regime, but Thai media reports on the junta’s lethal crackdown in the country and recent air strikes targeting Karen insurgents and civilians along the Thai-Myanmar border appear to have prompted a change of heart.
Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said on March 30 that refugees fleeing Myanmar will be allowed into Thailand on humanitarian grounds if the violence escalates.
“Thailand will not turn them away. When they are in trouble, we will not deny them entry to our country. However, this does not mean we will allow them in with open arms,” Prayut said, according to the Bangkok Post.
The Mae Hong Song governor said that troops from the Naresuan Task Force, which is responsible for security in the border areas in his province, have been deployed to look after the Karen refugees, according to the Nation newspaper.
Asked about reports that some Karen were denied entry at the border, Prime Minister Prayut said that it was necessary for the Thai authorities to enforce requirements for legal entry.
“If there is a war, that’s another scenario. In the event the situation escalates, leading to deaths and injuries, the government will put in place measures to deal with an influx,” he said.
“We have years of experience, with nine refugee centers sheltering refugees.”
Thailand already hosts around 100,000 mostly Karen and Karenni refugees from Myanmar in camps along the border.
Prayut said the Thai government would return the latest refugees when the situation across the border was deemed to be safe.
Since the Myanmar military began its brutal crackdown on anti-regime protesters in early March, hundreds of activists, politicians and civil servants refusing to work for the junta have fled to insurgent-controlled areas along the frontier with Thailand.
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