With an internal war in Burma tearing at the country for more than 50 years, refugees have been pouring into northern Thailand, seeking some way to survive. In response to this need, Compassion and International Justice Mission (IJM) have partnered over the past two years to help support the refugees as they begin a new life.
The Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) states that over the last four decades, 1.3 million refugees have emigrated from Burma to Thailand.
Thailand has been willing to help refugees by providing shelter, schooling and basic survival needs (e.g., food, shelter and medical care) via nine refugee camps along the border. Currently, Thailand hosts 112,000 registered refugees, of which an estimated 50,000 are not in a border camp.
According to the humanitarian group Free Burma Rangers, “The Regime’s army has built roads and camps in ethnic homelands forcing people to relocate or flee into the jungle. There is documented forced labor and the use of rape as a weapon … The Regime’s army lays land mines down to keep villagers from returning home and supporting resistance. They aim to dominate the population, assimilate them and exploit them.”
The Burmese refugees are mainly ethnic Karen and Kareeni. They’ve been in exile longer than many other groups in the world. Returning home seems unlikely.
Compassion Thailand has 13 child development centers located along the Thai-Burma border, where Karen children are receiving support through child sponsorship. But among these children, there have been many issues of non-citizenship and child rights.
We equip the center staff with knowledge and understanding about child protection, but one form of child protection training is offered by IJM. Every staff member from our 201 child development centers in Thailand attended IJM’s training last year. The training taught the center staff how to provide a safe environment for children, discussed forms of abuse, and addressed ways to educate both parents and children on how to treat one another.
The staff also learned how to recognize the physical and behavioral signs of child abuse, along with how to respond properly.
For the center staff working along the Burmese border, citizenship was another training topic conducted. Many of the refugees have not received Thai citizenship because they don’t know how to apply. The staff learned the proper procedures from the town baliff and a citizen specialist.
IJM is also helping Compassion Thailand through the legal process of obtaining citizenship for refugees. The centers along the Thai-Burma border are in the process of surveying and collecting the documents to prove that the children were born in Thailand and have a right to Thai citizenship. After the staff collect the documents, they send a report to the Compassion Thailand office and IJM assists our office staff with the next steps.