Oblivious to the rain in the afternoon, six boys chase each other near the fence of road in Mae La, the largest of nine refugee camps along the border between Thailand and Burma.
“Please, no pictures of people,” implores a man who was nearby shelter against the wall of one of the thousands of wooden shacks along the road. Three of the children are his, but he refuses to give his name, saying only that he crossed into Thailand from Burma Karen State “more than a year ago” and has limited the field since.
Acting under orders of provincial governor, Samart Loifah Tak, Thai authorities began with a staff of Mae La and Nu Mai Umpiem Pu-the other two camps in Tak province. The census is underway, with approximately 40 percent of some 140,000 Burmese refugees in Thailand are not registered.
The Thai government allowed the detection and recording of newcomers in 2005, meaning that there are around 60,000 registered refugees now inside Burma, Thailand, according to Sally Thompson, the Consortium of the border between Thailand and Burma (TBBC), a grouping of 12 NGOs to help Burmese refugees in camps in the border.
Overall, Thailand is home to a little over 96,000 registered refugees, according to figures released by the United Nations Commission for Refugees (UNHCR) in its report Global Trends 2010, which was released Monday to mark the World Refugee Day. Pakistan, Iran and Syria have the largest populations of refugees worldwide at 1.9 million, 1.1 million, one million, respectively, with numbers swollen due to the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.
In general, Global Trends 2010 report says that “43.7 million people are displaced throughout the world – about entire populations of any equalingthe Colombia, South Korea and the Scandinavian countries and Sri Lanka combined.” Of this total displaced, are shown as 15.4 million refugees, 27.5 million people internally displaced by conflict, and about 850,000 are asylum seekers, according to new report.
Thailand has long been a haven for Burmese affected by oppression and war at home, with the actual number of 140,000 refugees, a figure that includes non-registered refugees, along with about three million Burmese migrants economic working in Thailand. In 2010, a total of 11. 400 refugees in Thailand were resettled in third countries, especially in the West, so that Thailand, the second highest refugee resettlement breakpoint after Nepal. Of these, 10,825 were from Burma, according to UNHCR spokeswoman Kitty McKinsey Asia.
Burma is ranked as the fifth largest country in the world’s supply of refugees, occupying about Colombia and Sudan. As the Burmese refugees in Thailand, the total output of refugees from Burma is given by UNHCR to 415,700 and “includes an estimated 200,000 unregistered people in Bangladesh,” Most Muslim Rohingya Arakan State in western Burma .
In the census of refugees Tak current governor’s comments Samart Thai and other senior officials in recent months on sending refugees back to Burma have caused consternation in the camps.
However, calls for Burmese refugees to be repatriated are premature, according to people familiar with the situation on the ground in ethnic minority regions near the border with Thailand.
“There is a conflict between the Council of State [the military dictatorship of Burma before the creation of a new civil nominally government earlier this year] and the armed ethnic groups in many regions,” said Mahn Mahn, head of the pack Health workers team, which deployed nearly 2,000 physicians and associated personnel in conflict affected regions of Burma, places where health facilities are thin on the ground, or nonexistent.
The latest wave of fighting in the northern state of Kachin has forced about 10. 000 people from their homes near the Burma-China border, while in some parts of Karen State, the source of most refugees in the neighboring province of Tak in Thailand, “the army has a shooting at sight policy, which affects both civilians and militia fighters, “said Mahn Mahn.
Since November 2010, when elections in Burma were accompanied by fighting in Karen State between the Burmese Army and various Karen factions, more than 30,000 people have been displaced, according to Sally Thompson.
“Around 6,000 of these are in temporary sites around the border,” she says, referring to new locations outside of the nine main camps.
Extensive de-mining in Karen State and in Burma’s other ethnic regions will be necessary before refugees can return to their homeland, says Saw Maw Kel, a former Karen rebel who lost part of his left leg in 1986 after standing on a landmine. He says that Karen rebels themselves plant landmines close to army locations, but the rebels tell civilians where the mines are located. He claims this is in contrast to the Burmese Army’s mines which are laid indiscriminately, affecting villages and making it dangerous to farm or work in forests.
Saw Maw Kel now runs the prosthetics department at the Mae Tao Clinic in Mae Sot, close to the Thailand-Burma border. “I have more than 200 referrals a year here,” he says, pointing to a whiteboard on the clinic wall which shows that the majority of his caseload to be landmine victims from inside Burma.
Not all of the cases he deals with are Karen or from the country’s other ethnic minorities. Than Tin, an ethnic Burman from Pegu Division, is one of the latest landmine casualties to visit Mae Tao. He lost half his right leg last January.
“I was lucky I had some friends with me,” he recounts. “One of them tied up my leg with a longyi and they all carried me to Myawaddy Hospital.” The improvised tourniquet likely saved Than Tin’s life, allowing him be taken across the border to Mae Sot for treatment.
Pointing down to his bandaged leg-stump, he says, “it is not safe in many places across the border. I went out with colleagues for a day’s work, and have not been able to work since. I nearly died.”
By SIMON ROUGHNEEN