More Karen refugees forced back across border despite Thailand’s denials (Video)

An elderly Karen woman stranded between borders in a screengrab from a video posted by the Friends Without Borders Foundation.
An elderly Karen woman stranded between borders in a screengrab from a video posted by the Friends Without Borders Foundation.

A nonprofit child welfare organization this morning shared additional video evidence of ethnic Karen forced back across the Salween River into Myanmar, where they had fled military air strikes, refuting Thailand’s claims they had been allowed to remain.

The Friends Without Borders Foundation, a nonprofit promoting child welfare in Southeast Asia, said Karen refugees continued to be forced back last night, and the only evidence of any under Thai military “care” were some trapped on the banks by barbed wire installed to prevent them from entering Thailand.

“We inquired about this and found that some refugees couldn’t make it to the boats in time, so they had to lie next to the river with some barbed wires set there by Thai authorities to prevent them from entering Thailand. Therefore, such places may not exactly be ‘safe places’ like Thai authorities claimed. Moreover, these refugees were ordered to go back by this morning,” the group said this morning.

Another clip showed an elderly woman describing how Thailand left them no choice but to return to Myanmar, where they were targeted by military bombing Sunday that killed an unknown number of people.

“This morning, this grandma’s family was stuck at the Salween River when they attempted to return back to Karen state,” the group said. “The grandmother said she escaped the Burmese military but now she is going back there because the Thais forced her to go back.” 

It comes a day after Thai authorities asserted without evidence that they were taking care of the ethnic Karen refugees after footages emerged of Thai security forces returning them to the boats they had used to cross the river border. Mae Hong Son Gov. Sithichai Chindaluang said yesterday that the refugees, which appeared to be mostly women and children, were not forced back but instead led to a “safe place” managed by the Thai military.

That contradicted a local army commander who told the Straits Times they were indeed forced back because “we don’t see any risk.”

Thailand, which is led by military men who seized power in a coup, has not publicly rebuked Myanmar’s military over last month’s takeover or the hundreds of civilians gunned down in the streets.

Human rights advocates said Thailand should work with international organizations such as the U.N. refugee agency to better handle those forced to flee.

“Thailand’s heartless and illegal act must stop now,” Sunai Phasuk, local researcher for Human Rights Watch wrote on Twitter.

The Friends Without Borders Foundation also denounced Thailand for violating international law which forbids nations from returning asylum-seekers to countries where they are likely to face persecution.

Myanmar’s military carried out air strikes on ethnic Karen communities along the border on Sunday, a move that heightens fears of a wider conflict – some of Myanmar’s armed ethnic groups have pledged their support to the provisional government contesting military rule – and a new refugee crisis. 

Tens of thousands of Myanmar refugees, mostly Karen, already live in camps along the border.

Tanee Sangrat, Thai foreign affairs spokesperson, said Thailand is experienced in handling refugees from neighboring countries and would do its best to assist them based on humanitarian principles.

Myanmar’s military is estimated to have killed more than 500 unarmed civilians since seizing power Feb. 1. Three days ago on Saturday was considered the deadliest day so far after security forces killed more than 100 people in the streets.


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