The U.N. refugee agency says it is assisting thousands of new refugees from Burma who fled into Northern Thailand on Monday, a day after the elections. The UNHCR says about 15,000 refugees fled after fighting broke out between ethnic Karen rebels and government troops in the Myawaddy area of eastern Burma, also known as Myanmar.
The U.N. refugee agency says it is coordinating aid to the refugees with private organizations at the request of the Thai authorities. It said it is providing shelter, food and water to the Burmese in the town of Mae Sot.
UNHCR spokesman, Andrej Mahecic, said refugees started pouring across the border early Monday on foot and on inner tubes across the Moei River. He said some of the refugees told aid workers they were afraid for their lives after their houses were attacked. Others said they fled the sound of fighting.
"Many collected their children from school and fled to Thailand with only the clothes on their back, some even barefoot," said Mahecic. "At first, only women and children were crossing, but later in the day more men arrived. Among the new arrivals are mothers with newborn babies as young as five days and 15 days."
Mahecic said the new refugees are gathered at two locations on the Thai side. He said there are indications these sites might be too small to hold the swelling numbers, so they will have to be moved.
He said the UNHCR has emptied its warehouse in Mae Sot to provide tents and plastic sheeting. He said a French humanitarian organization has worked overnight to build 50 latrines and install tanks for drinking water.
"Local people have also been pitching in and we have asked that they coordinate their efforts," said Mahecic. "We have asked that they make sure that those most in need get help first. One man delivered 1,000 blankets to the new site, which we plan to distribute today to the most vulnerable. UNHCR staff from our Mae Sot office are on the site again today to monitor the welfare of the new arrivals and find out more about their needs and why they fled. We are working well with the Thai government and NGO's in coordinating services to the refugees."
Mahecic said there are reports of more fighting and more people are coming over the border.
He said UNHCR staff are working with Thai authorities to assess the needs of some 3,000 refugees who crossed the border overnight at Three Pagoda Pass west of Bangkok.