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A brief history of the
Thailand Burma border situation

Burma has experienced one of the most protracted refugee situations in modern history. An estimated 140,000 Burmese refugees who have fled from conflict and human rights abuses currently live in 9 official refugee camps along the Thailand-Burma/Myanmar border. Most are from the border States and regions of South East Burma and numbers increased every year until 2005 as the Burmese Army gradually overran territory formerly controlled by ethnic nationalities.

For 28 years, refugees have been confined to the camps with limited educational skills, training opportunities and no official means of earning income or gaining employment and therefore remain largely dependent on outside aid for food, shelter, protection and other basic needs. The Thailand Burma Border Consortium is the only agency responsible for providing food and shelter assistance to the refugees in these camps.

According to a 2011 study on displacement and poverty among IDPs in South East Burma by TBC, coercive military patrols, forced labour and forced displacement each disrupted the livelihoods of at least one in ten households in the previous six months before they were surveyed. The study highlighted that almost two-thirds of households are unable to meet their basic needs and more than half a million people live as internally displaced persons.

However, the survey was undertaken before Dramatic political developments began to take place towards the end of 2011 Burma/ Myanmar, including Aung San Suu Kyi winning a seat in parliament after 15 years of house arrest. A new government peace initiative led by Railway Minister U Aung Min has led to initial agreements with the SSA-S, CNF, KNU, KNPP and NMSP, and other ceasefires have been negotiated with ethnic nationalities. Inevitably these political changes in Burma/ Myanmar and the ceasefire talks have raised expectations that refugees may at last be able to go home. So far, however, there is consensus that it will take time. Without genuine reconciliation it will not be possible to address all of the problems that decades of conflict have created. Thousands of villages have been relocated or destroyed, hundreds of thousands of landmines have been deployed, basic infrastructure is non-existent in many areas and local economies have been destroyed. A comprehensive rehabilitation program will need to be drawn up which will include provision for hundreds of thousands of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) who may also wish to return ‘home’. For all of this, access for the humanitarian community will be essential. TBC will monitor the scale of displacement, the prevalence of poverty and the conditions necessary for return.

The 140,000 refugees in camps in Thailand, tens of thousands outside the camps and hundreds of thousands of IDPs across the border have an important role to play in reconciliation. Their skills learnt in community management and service delivery of assistance programs will be invaluable assets when return and reconstruction become a reality. In South East Burma/Myanmar, TBC’s commitment to building the humanitarian awareness and capacity of civil society actors and ethnic opposition authorities is promoting values and skills necessary for conflict transformation and early recovery.

Please refer to Appendix F of our six month report for more information and maps illustrating how the situation on the Thai/ Burmese border has developed since 1984.

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