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Thailand urged not to push back Myanmar refugees

Many stranded near border face shortage of essential items amid heavy rain and flooding
This photo taken on Jan 15, 2022 shows Myanmar refugees, who fled a surge in violence as the military cracks down on rebel groups, rest after crossing a river on the border in Thailand's Mae Sot district
This photo taken on Jan 15, 2022 shows Myanmar refugees, who fled a surge in violence as the military cracks down on rebel groups, rest after crossing a river on the border in Thailand's Mae Sot district. (Photo: AFP)
Published: October 05, 2022 07:58 AM GMT
Updated: October 10, 2022 05:11 AM GMT

Rights groups have called on Thai authorities not to push back Myanmar refugees into conflict-torn Karen state.

A group of students sheltering on the Thai side of the border were forced to return to Myanmar, crossing the fast-flowing flooded Moei river on Sept. 30, according to rights groups.

They said one of the boats transporting the students back to Myanmar hit another boat and almost sank. The students were forced to swim to safety and were left with severe trauma.

Villagers forced back by Thai authorities do not dare return home, preferring to remain on the riverbank.

Video footage uploaded by activists on social media shows dozens of people on a boat amid the rain as local officials pushed them back .

The villagers, including children, elderly and sick people, are facing a shortage of essential items, especially food and medicines, due to the heavy rain and flooding in the area.

“Neighboring countries must also ensure the safety and support of people fleeing from Myanmar"

“United Nations agencies and international governments must publicly and privately engage with the Royal Thai Government to persuade them to stop forcing refugees to return to conflict zones,” Nant Helen Buhtoo, co-chair of the European Karen Network, said on Oct. 4.

The group urged Thailand to respect international human rights’ norms, including the principle of non-refoulement enshrined in a new anti-torture bill passed on Aug 14 and to adopt and ratify the Refugee Convention.

More than 20,000 refugees have crossed into Thailand to flee fighting in Myanmar and seek protection since the military ousted the civilian government in February 2021, according to a recent UN refugee agency report.

Refugee International (RI) called on Thailand to allow cross-border humanitarian aid to be delivered to Myanmar and to protect refugees fleeing the fighting.

“Neighboring countries must also ensure the safety and support of people fleeing from Myanmar by not pressuring them to return home and by allowing UN agencies and local and international NGOs to access newly arrived refugees,” RI said in a report released in July.

Fighting has intensified between the military and the combined groups of ethnic armies and people’s defense forces in Chin, Sagaing and Magway states and in Karen and Kayah states in the southeast, bordering Thailand.

At least 150,000 people have already been displaced in Karen state alone and they are in desperate need of food, medicine and shelter, according to aid groups.

Karen communities around the world have called for sanctions against Myanmar companies involved in the supply of aviation fuel to the military and sanctions to stop international companies being involved in any aspect of the supply of aviation.

Relatively peaceful eastern Myanmar also witnessed its first air strikes in 20 years on March 27, 2021, after an army post was overrun near the border in an incident that claimed 10 lives.

Predominantly Christian Karen state has seen more than 60 years of conflict between the military and the Karen National Liberation Army which has left over 100,000 refugees, mostly ethnic Karen, in camps along the Thai border.

The Karen account for about 5 million of Myanmar’s 54 million people and are the third largest ethnic group after the Bamar and Shan. The majority of Karen, also known as Kayin, are Theravada Buddhists while around 15 percent are Christians. Many Karen were animists when Christian missionaries arrived in the 19th century.

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