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Karen Refugees Blocked From Seeking Protection in Thailand

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On 8 June 2007, over two hundred Karen refugees, including sick women and children, fled to Thailand seeking security from attacks, only to be refused assistance. Thailand must keep its human rights obligations and address the refugee situation at its borders.
Two hundred and sixteen Karen refugees who fled from the Karen state of Burma on 8 June 2007 due to persecution by the Burmese military were denied entry into Thailand, according to the Irrawaddy. The Karen Refugees Committee (KRC) said that most of the refugees are women and children. The Karen group has been sent back to Ei Tu Hta refugee camp in the Karen state near Mae Hong Son Province, where they are held in crowded conditions and suffer from malaria and diarrhoea.1

In 2006, the Burmese military reinitiated attacks in the Karen State, estimated to be the worst assault in more than a decade. As part of the military’s strategy to curb the support of ethnic insurgent armies, civilians are the main targets. Villagers are forced to flee and hide in the jungles, move to government-controlled areas, travel to ceasefire locations, or migrate to Burma’s neighboring countries in search of asylum or refugee status.2

The Thai-Burma border has been a popular “last resort” for Karen refugees. Several reasons include the proximity to the Karen State; the numerous international and national organisations located on the border providing humanitarian assistance and legal expertise; India and China are not favourable destinations as they are close allies of Burma, as their main energy supplier; Bangladesh and Malaysia have more rigorous security due to their very strict regulations on migrants, including Burmese refugees.

Thai authorities refute that they did not believe the Burmese military was attacking the Karen, stating that “they didn’t hear any sounds of gunfire and there was no fighting there”.3 Another explanation as to why the Karen were denied entry was the conflict between two Karen groups. The Karen National Union (KNU) and Democratic Karen Buddhist Organization (DKBO) dispute has been in existence since 1994, and recently many spies for the latter’s army (Democratic Karen Buddhist Army-DKBA) have been disguised as Karen refugees along the Thai border, creating more fear in both the Thai army and refugee camp officers.

These explanations are unacceptable both in terms of human rights and security. A group of people seeking shelter, especially sick women and children, should not be refused entry.

Thailand has the obligation to abide by the voluntary pledge made last year in the 2006 Human Rights Council that it “will continue to mainstream human rights in all its work at the national level”4. Thailand should also recall the first article of Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which states, “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights. They are endowed with reason and conscience and should act towards one another in a spirit of brotherhood”. These commitments by Thailand, among others, should be enough reason to act humanely towards its friends from neighbouring countries.

Furthermore, Thailand should ratify the Convention on the Status of Refugees (1951) and its protocol (1966) with the intention of creating a mechanism more conducive to addressing the refugee situation along the border.

“Karen Refugees Denied Entry after Fleeing Offensive” June 8, 2007

Kavita Shukla and Camilla Olson, “Burma: military offensive displacing thousands of civilians” in Refugees International Bulletin. May 16, 2007.

“Karen Refugees Denied Entry after Fleeing Offensive” June 8, 2007