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Thailand steels itself for more refugees as Myanmar “melts down”

Updated On: Sep 28, 2007

As Myanmar deteriorates, Thailand has been on its toes trying to take precautionary measures, even as the army watches the border movements very closely.

Following the recent incidents in Myanmar, Thai Prime Minister Surayud Chulanont urged the military rulers of neighbouring Myanmar yesterday (26 September 2007) to avoid using force to crack down on the protesting monks.

However, with increasing signs that fighting will ultimately break out, Thailand is prepared to evacuate Thais in Myanmar if the mass street protests turn into violence, Thai Supreme Commander Gen. Boonsang Niempradit announced on Tuesday (25 September). A more serious problem for Thailand, however, is the potential flooding of Thailand with Myanmarese refugees, especially of the persecuted minority groups like the Shan and Karen.

Burmese dissidents have already urged the Thai government and the international community to prepare for the possible influx of refugees in case of bloody clashes between authorities and pro-democracy demonstrators in Burma, the Nation reported today (27 September). As it stands, humanitarian workers at the Thai-Burmese border are already on the alert and readying themselves for the potential refugees.

The UN has similarly sent out notices. The Relief Web observed that Kitty McKinsey, senior regional public information officer of UN High Commissioner for Refugees Bureau for Asia and the Pacific in Bangkok, had explained in an email message to The Irrawaddy, “Regarding anyone from Myanmar [Burma] who might flee fighting or political persecution, in Thailand they would follow the normal procedure and apply to the Provincial Admissions Boards for registration in one of the nine refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar [Burma] border.”

If the thousands of refugees do cross the border, it is uncertain what their fate would be like as Thailand is increasingly averse to taking in its neighbouring peoples. It has already drawn flak for intending to deport the 8,000 Hmong back to Laos in time for the 2008 deadline.

At present, there are already about 160,000 Burmese living in the nine refugee camps in Thailand, comprising mainly Karen and Karenni people. In addition, NGOs are concerned about the closure of 19 border crossings between Thailand and Burma's Karen State as a result of an agreement between Thai and Burmese officials to co-operate in controlling illegal immigration and boost economic activity in the area. This may result in more indiscriminate killings of the Karen people as the junta seizes the chance of national unrest to quell all sectors of dissent. (27 September 2007)

Sources:

Thai PM urges Myanmar to avoid "harsh measures" (Reuters, 27 September 2007)

Flood of refugees expected (Nation, 27 September 2007)

Border NGOs ready for refugees from crackdown (ReliefWeb, 26 September 2007)

Thailand monitors Myanmar as situation worsens (TNA, 26 September 2007)

Thailand to evacuate Thais in Myanmar if violence occurs (TNA, 25 September 2007)

The Hmong Problem (Bangkok Post, 25 September 2007)