Shan Refugees Struggle for Food Amid COVID-19 Pandemic

June 18, 2020

Ethnic Shan refugees and internally displaced people (IDPs) on the Thai border have been struggling to obtain enough food during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and are in need of assistance, representatives of the Shan Refugee Committee said.

Shan Refugee Committee member Sai Leun said that members of the Shan community have not been able to seek work as day laborers on garlic and chili farms because of restrictions on work and travel during the pandemic. This lack of regular income has led to a lack of food.

“We are struggling for food rations. We don’t have a regular income. For example, we could go to work at Thai agriculture farms as daily wage workers before the outbreak of COVID-19. Now we cannot go to work,” Sai Leun told NMG.

Another urgent need is medical supplies, he added.

“A major challenge is that if a refugee needs surgery, we cannot go to the Thai hospital because Thai authorities have shut down their border. If a refugee suffers from a severe disease, we cannot go to a Thai hospital,” Sai Leun explained.

Many international donors largely cut off assistance to displaced persons’ camps, particularly the IDP camps, along the Thai-Burma border after the Burmese government and some of the country’s ethnic armed organizations signed the Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) in 2015.

The NCA signing has not allowed Thai border-based refugees to return home, however, leading to demands from these communities for continued international assistance.

“There are many refugees such as Shan, Karen, Karenni and Mon people in the Thai-Burma border area. None of these refugees have been able to return to their old villages. INGOs should not cut off their assistance to refugees. We demand that INGOs to continue to provide assistance to these refugees,” Sai Leun told NMG.

According to Shan Refugee Committee, more than 6,000 Shan refugees and IDPs are living in Koong Jor, Kong Moong Murng, Loi Sam Sip, Loilam, Loi Tai Leng and Loi Kaw Wan camps along the Thai-Burma border. They fled the civil war in Shan State between 1996 and 1998 and sought refuge in these camps.

More than 400,000 people were displaced in southern Shan State during these three years, during which some 1,400 villages in 11 townships were destroyed under the Burma Army’s Four Cuts military campaign carried out against ethnic communities.