Thai Authorities Turn Back Villagers Fleeing Myanmar Regime's Airstrikes

By The Irrawaddy 30 March 2021

Yangon — Ethnic Karen villagers fleeing Myanmar military’s airstrikes in Karen State’s Papun District have been forced to return to their villages after they were turned back by the Thai authorities.

“Most of the villagers who had fled into Thailand are children, elderly people and women. They have no food and were given nothing after they arrived in Thailand. So they can’t stay there for long and they are afraid to return home. They have nowhere to flee. As they were turned back by the Thai authorities, they have to return to their villages. They have dug holes and are living underground,” said a spokesman for the Karen Peace Support Network (KPSN).

More than 10,000 ethnic Karen villagers fled their homes after the military regime carried out airstrikes on villages over the weekend and on Monday.

Some 8,000 have fled into forests and around 3,000 from villages along the Salween River, including Mae Nu Hta and U Weh Klo villages and Ei Thu Hta internal displacement camp, crossed the border to seek refuge in Thailand on Sunday.

However, Karen villagers were turned back by the Thai authorities and have since been returning to their homes. Over 2,000 villagers returned on Monday and some 500 followed on Tuesday.

The media and civil society organizations providing humanitarian assistance for Karen villagers were denied access to meet the newly displaced Karen during their brief stay in Thailand. Villagers said they lacked food and water during their stay.

“Seventy-six more villagers have arrived in Thailand. They said they have not yet met the Thai authorities. It is not yet known if they will also be repatriated,” said the KPSN spokesman.

The airstrikes followed increased military tensions in Papun between the Karen National Union (KNU) and Myanmar’s military after the KNU said it backs the people and resists the military regime. Based in Papun, KNU Brigade 5 has blocked food deliveries to Myanmar’s military and attacked military outposts around the town.

Three civilians were killed, nine injured and some houses were burned down during airstrikes on Day Pu No village.

“There were also airstrikes on Monday night. It is not safe. No one dares to sleep inside their homes at night. Some sleep in bomb shelters they have dug. We have to stay where we think it is safe. And we can’t sleep well,” said a resident of Ei Thu Hta displacement camp.

After being denied entry to Thailand, villagers have no option but to reinforce their bomb shelters and remain in their villages, he said.

Over 8,000 people who have fled Day Pu No village remain in forests and their condition is unknown. Karen NGOs told The Irrawaddy they had lost contact with Day Pu No villagers.

The Thai government denies turning Karen villagers back to Papun.


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