Fleeing violence in Myanmar, thousands camp along Thai border river

At least 2,000 men, women and children are reportedly camped out in four separate locations on the Myanmar side of the Moei River.

Refugees in the water of the Moei River close to their makeshift encampment in Myanmar.
Refugees, who have fled a flare-up in fighting between the Myanmar army and armed groups, settled temporarily on the Moei River Bank on the Thai-Myanmar border on Friday [Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters]

Thousands of Myanmar villagers have been forced to live under makeshift tents alongside a river that borders Thailand, fearful of returning to homes they said had been bombarded by military air raids, but reluctant to seek refuge across the frontier.

Heavy fighting between the Myanmar military, which seized power in a coup last year, and resistance fighters has killed or displaced thousands of civilians in this region and elsewhere.

Many have fled to Thailand, but poor conditions in refugee camps there have prompted some to return to the Myanmar side of the border, and human rights groups have called for more help for the displaced.

Reuters news agency reporters on the Thai side of the Moei River on Friday saw an estimated 2,000 men, women and children living under tarps on the opposite bank in four separate locations.

One woman from the camp, Sabal Phyu, 42, had waded across the loosely patrolled border to collect donated food and bottled water, before returning to the Myanmar side of the river.

“Over there, we received good aid donations but it was very crowded and difficult to live. Here, we have more freedom,” Sabal Phyu told Reuters.

Sabal Phyu said she initially crossed into Thailand with her husband and four children but came back to the border area after being packed into an empty cattle barn with other refugees near the Thai town of Mae Sot.

About 8,000 Myanmar refugees are staying in temporary shelters in Thailand, according to the International Committee of the Red Cross.

A spokesperson for Myanmar’s military government did not answer calls from Reuters seeking comment.

Humanitarian obligations

Asked about the Thai camp conditions, Thailand government spokeswoman Ratchada Dhanadirek said the country was “taking care of the refugees” and carrying out its duties “according to international human rights standards”.

The United Nations Refugee Agency, UNHCR, said on Friday it had not been granted access by the Thai government to the sites in Mae Sot where refugees are being hosted and also cannot access the Myanmar side of the border.

UNHCR has supplied mosquito nets, sleeping mats, blankets and facemasks to support the humanitarian response being led by Thai authorities, spokesperson Kasita Rochanakorn said.

The deputy Asia director at Human Rights Watch said Thailand needed to do more to support those displaced by fighting in Myanmar.

 

“Thailand must recognise that their humanitarian obligations to refugees involve more than just allowing some food and medicine packages across the border,” Phil Robertson said.

Elsewhere in Myanmar, there have been reports of a village in the northern Sagaing division being allegedly attacked on Friday by the military.

Residents of Kan Gyi East village in Kanbalu township were forced to flee on Friday morning, as security forces reportedly beat residents and arrested at least 20 of them, while burning homes and killing livestock, according to social media posts, which include photographs showing the alleged attack.

Al Jazeera could not independently confirm the reports, and the military has yet to comment on the incident.

Myanmar has been in turmoil since the military overthrew a civilian government led by Nobel laureate Aung San Suu Kyi on February 1, triggering protests and sporadic clashes in the countryside between anti-junta militia and the army.

More than 1,400 civilians and protesters have been killed by Myanmar security forces since the coup, according to the Assistance Association of Political Prisoners activist group.

The military has said those figures, widely cited by international organisations, are exaggerated.

Moei RiverRefugees, fleeing a flare-up in fighting between the Myanmar army and armed groups,  have settled temporarily on the Moei River Bank and received aid from Thailand on the Thai-Myanmar border on Thursday [Athit Perawongmetha/Reuters]
Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters