Thai-Burma border 2009

Refugees International Japan visits refugee communities around the world on a regular basis so that we can see at first hand the kind of impact your donations have. We are used to hearing bad news from countries affected by war. However, the people we meet, who are doing their best for their families and their communities, always impress our teams. Their resilience is amazing. The programs we fund help them to rebuild their lives and prepare for the return home.
VISIT REPORT - Thai-Burma border projects
Refugees International Japan’s first mission was working with refugees in Thailand. This was in response to the outflow of refugees from Cambodia. Since then funding spread to other areas of Thailand where there are large populations of refugees. These days the majority of refugees in Thailand are from various regions of Burma. Refugees International Japan has a long history of working with groups on the Thai-Burma border as well as funding projects with Internally Displaced People within Burma.

Refugee Situation

For more than five decades, Burma has been entrenched in political and armed conflict between the repressive ruling military regime, political opponents, and ethnic groups, resulting in the displacement of over 3.5 million Burmese.

Today, 150,000 Burmese (of various ethnic groups) reside in 9 Thai temporary displaced persons camps assisted by the Thai Burmese Border Consortium and UNHCR. Hundreds of thousands of other Burmese, particularly the Shan,live as illegal migrants without access to refugee status or assistance despite having experienced persecution and conflict in Burma.

Projects visited
Earthrights International Alumni programs - graduates of Earthrights School prepare proposals for small projects within a budget of 2,000 USD. This gives them an opportunity to put their studies into practice. As we travelled around on this visit, we met many previous alumni from the program - we could see the impact of the program in the variety of projects undertaken and the ripple effect as the beneficiaries extended their work further.

Women’s Capacity Development Program - young women in Karenni camp 1 learn about their rights, avoiding conflict in the community and leadership. The women we spoke to told how the training empowered them to take the lead on community issues and to learn to work together despite the confines of life in camp.   

Social Development Center - also in Karenni camp 1, this year-long project conducts training on conflict resolution, peaceful negotiations, human rights and the environment. They showed us a presentation on the program and an impressive list of the variety of work that graduates have gone on to after the course, many of them taking their learning back into Burma to help communities there.       

Drug and Alcohol Rehabilitation Education - a valuable community project working with youth and families in five camps. We met groups of young people who organise various activities in the camps to give people focus and use these events to educate people on the dangers of addiction. Addiction is a common problem as people despair and lose sight of their ambitions.      
Baby kits for mothers inside Burma and in camps on the border - the Karen Women’s Organisation run this program as well as many others on the border and inside Karen state, Burma. RIJ funded a project in the community center at Ho Kay in Karen state and we learnt that is is now self-sufficient. We discussed funding for baby kits in Ee Htoo IDP camp in Karen state.

Providing facilities for IDP children wishing to pursue education in safe environment - this is a new project for Refugees International Japan. We met the members in charge of the project and heard their plans for improving the facilities in Nuh Poe camp. We did not have time to visit the camp on this visit.            

Individual stories
A drug addiction worker in Mae Ra Mo camp told us how he escalated from alcohol, smoking and betel nut to abuse opium and amphetamines too. If he could not get a cigarette his anger turned to abuse. In 2000 he attended a workshop run by DARE. At first he was not convinced and would go outside for a drink during breaks. He was finally persuaded to go through treatment and the pain turned to relief and gave him freedom. He now works to support others in a similar situation.

We met a young woman who conducts leadership training in the camps. She told us how her mother in Burma is very sick and she would like to go and visit her. However, it is too dangerous to make the journey to her village through the jungle. Her family do not want to leave their village despite the dangers and the deprivations because it is their home and what they have always known.

Another addiction prevention worker told us how his home in Burma was attacked by soldiers who raped and killed his sister. In his anger he joined the Karen army but he stepped on a landmine and lost his leg. When people were forced over the border in 1996 he was alone and lost and ended up living under a tree for several months. Then he began drinking. DARE case workers encouraged him to attend the Treatment Centre and he has been working with DARE since then.

See Jane’s blog for more details of the visit