Thai authorities have not let aid groups meet the refugees, many of whom lost their belongings in a flash flood soon after their arrival
Published on Apr 30, 2021
More than 2,000 people fled to Thailand this week to escape ongoing Myanmar military airstrikes near an internally displaced people’s (IDP) camp in Karen State, according to local activists.
On Thursday morning, around 1,700 people crossed the Salween River from Mutraw District, also known as Hpapun, to Thailand’s Mae Hong Son province, according to the Karen Peace Support Network (KPSN).
They followed some 300 people who fled across the border on Wednesday after the junta carried out multiple aerial attacks on the area.
The regime launched two airstrikes near the Ei Htu Hta IDP camp on Thursday afternoon and evening, and one at 1:30am on Friday, KPSN said.
“They were not far from Ei Htu Hta—the IDPs could hear the bombings,” Naw K’nyaw Paw, a KPSN member and general secretary of the Karen Women’s Organization, said.
From Tuesday to Wednesday, the military carried out nine air attacks in Mutraw, bringing the total to 12 in less than four days. No casualties have been reported in this round of strikes.
After the refugees arrived in Thailand on Thursday, they were made to walk for one hour to a holding area designated by the Thai military, according to KPSN. They are expected to remain there for 48 hours in accordance with Thai policy.
The refugees set up makeshift shelters under plastic tarps, but heavy rain on Thursday night caused a nearby stream to burst its banks.
The rushing water carried away many of their belongings and food supplies that they had brought with them, Naw K’nyaw Paw explained.
She added that the Thai military had not allowed any organisations to meet the newly arrived refugees to assess their needs or distribute emergency aid.
“Access has been cut off,” she said. “We won’t be able to deliver humanitarian aid needs if we don’t have access to the area. We would really like to have access to the people and support them.”
The refugees have reportedly asked the Thai military for permission to stay in the country for at least 10 days, noting that if the bombings cease, they plan to return to Karen State as soon as possible.
There has been no response from the Thai military, according to KPSN.
It is unclear if they will be allowed to remain in Thailand, as the country forced some 2,000 refugees from the same area back to Myanmar in late March.
“We would like to see the Thai authorities not push people back. Airstrikes are continuing every day. Their life is already hard. We don’t want them to face more difficulties through a push back right now,” Naw K’nyaw Paw said.
She noted that if the bombings continue, thousands more displaced people still sheltering along the Salween River may also have to seek refuge in Thailand.
There have been more than 20 junta airstrikes in Mutraw since late March, according to KPSN.
At least 19 people were killed and 16 injured in the previous round of regime air attacks on the area from March 27 until April 1, the group said. They estimate that up to 45,000 villagers have been displaced throughout Mutraw by both the airstrikes and near daily artillery bombardments.
The territory is controlled by Brigade 5 of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA), the armed wing of the Karen National Union.
The most recent regime airstrikes followed the KNLA’s seizure of a strategic Myanmar military base in the Thaw Le Hta area of Mutraw on Tuesday. It was located across the Salween River from the Thai village of Mae Sam Laep in Mae Hong Son province.