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Karen Doctor Sees Little End to Humanitarian Crisis in Eastern Burma

Increasing conflict between Burma's ruling military and ethnic communities has intensified a humanitarian crisis in eastern Burma as more people become displaced losing livelihoods and income. A Karen doctor working in Thailand warns of the economic dislocation of thousands of people resulting in more children being abandoned.

The Thailand Burma Border Consortium says as many as 470,000 people are internally displaced in rural eastern Burma, with the numbers on the rise due to ongoing conflicts and as the military extends economic control over the region.

The main areas affected according to the Consortium are the Shan, Karen, Karenni, and Mon states with 230,000 living in temporary settlements in ceasefire areas, and over 110,000 now hiding in remote jungles due to the fighting. A further 128,000, evicted from their villages, have to live in state designated relocation sites.

The social dislocation has led to more people fleeing to Thailand or seeking emergency care at a clinic in the Thai border town of Mae Sot.

The clinic is overseen by Cynthia Muang, a Karen medical practitioner who fled Burma in 1988 as the military crushed pro-democracy protests killing and wounding thousands and driving even more to Thailand as refugees.

"The military continues expanding their forces in different ethnic states and then start so called development projects, like building bridges, and hydropower," she said. "Wherever there is new development there has been massive displacement. So we are very much concerned that if the military continues holding power there will be more displacement, more humanitarian crisis on the border."

The clinic currently sees over 100,000 patients a year and the numbers of medical cases are increasing by 20 per cent a year, a sign of the numbers of internally displaced and the poor state of Burma's health care system.

The clinic is receiving more patients suffering from Aids or testing positive for the HIV virus, while up to eight per cent of pregnant women are carriers of hepatitis 'B' in what Dr. Muang calls an "epidemic".

The local Mae Sot community also looks after a growing population of abandoned children. The clinic and a network of 62 community schools already educate 12,000 children from migrant workers and refugees in the provincial Mae Sot area. Dr. Muang says as people lose livelihoods children are being left behind.

"If they don't have better job and they don't have good livelihood so we have seen more children abandoned," seh said. "More and more children come to Thailand without accompanied parents and children are abandoned in the hospital. Some deliver baby and after that they abandon baby."

The children are also being left at the clinic during vaccinations or on family planning visits or the children are left at the schools in what Dr. Muang says highlights an on-going humanitarian crisis along the border.

Dr. Muang remains pessimistic over the outlook for Burma despite general elections in the country in November.

Analysts expect the military to maintain control over the civilian government with the military backed party forecast to take a majority of seats in the new parliament. They say the military actually has a quota of guaranteed seats in the parliament.

Dr. Myang says an outcome with the military taking a leading role in the next government will likely result in further conflicts in the border regions adding to the climate of crisis.