Throughout this year the British government and media have been focussing on the positive changes occurring in Burma. The government also agreed to the suspension of EU sanctions despite none of the benchmarks originally set being fulfilled. These included the unconditional release of all political prisoners, the end of violence in ethnic states, and allowing humanitarian aid to be delivered without hindrance in ethnic states.
The British Foreign and Commonwealth Office published its Human Rights and Democracy report for 2011 on July 10th. Despite some welcome reforms, the paper describes continuing (and in some ethnic states, worsening) human rights abuses in Burma, including villages been razed to the ground, torture, rape, and the continued use of child soldiers.
Currently on the Thai-Burma border there is increased government discussion regarding Karen refugees being sent back home. Thailand’s National Security Council said last week that refugees from Burma who have been sheltering on Thai soil for more than two decades could return within a year.
Despite this statement, and the growing representation in the media that as things are ‘improving’ in Burma, the situation on the ground remains precarious. Ceasefires are still fragile and do not yet include an enforceable code of conduct; troops still reside in local villages, and although the security council claims to be clearing them, the ground is still littered with land mines. A spokeswoman from the Karen Community Based Organisations (KCBO’s) stated that “We hope that we can go home one day soon, but it is just not possible under the current conditions in Karen areas.”
This is especially poignant for the children at our Children's Crisis Centre in Thailand, the majority of whom are Karen refugees, and also those at our Nursery Schools inside Burma. While the situation in Karen state remains unstable a report recently published by Human Rights Watch details the difficult plight of Burmese refugees in Thailand. Ad Hoc and Inadequate: Thailand’s Treatment of Refugees and Asylum Seekers describes how “Thailand presents Burmese refugees with the unfair choice of stagnating for years in remote refugee camps or living and working outside the camps without protection from arrest and deportation”.
To be separated from parents in this environment is extremely dangerous for refugee children, leaving them vulnerable to abuse, trafficking and exploitation. Our Crisis Centre gives 72 children support, shelter, education and nutrition until a time when they can be re-united with family. For the Karen child refugees in the Ei Htu Hta refugee camp, there is a high risk of malnutrition. Our Nursery Schools give not only vital early years education, but a nutritious meal each day to 300 displaced children under 5 years of age.
We welcome news of positive reforms, but acknowledge that there is still a long way to go before Karen State is stable enough to provide a safe homecoming for these people. Until such a time, our projects in this area will continue to enable children enduring these circumstances to find a place of safety, where their needs can be met, their potential kindled and their sense of childhood protected.
Find out more about our Children’s Crisis Centre on the Thai-Burma border, our Nursery Schools in Karen State Burma and consider donating to our work.