Over 30 years ago, at the beginning of 1984, the traditional way of living of ethnic minorities relying on from farming in isolated villages on the Thai-Burma border was dramatically changed by a series of attacks by the Tatmadaw, the Burmese military. Around 10,000 of these civilians, mostly Karen, fled into Thailand, followed soon by Mon villagers more to the South. They established camps, resembling large self-organized villages, on the Thai side of the border, where, in the followings years, succeeding waves of refugees would land, as the Tatmadaw tightened its controls on border areas. Humanitarian organizations, foremost among them the Burmese Border Consortium (now The Border Consortium or TBC), have been involved since then to supply food, equipment and medical help to the refugees. They also have also been supporting well-organized refugees’ committees like the Karen Refugee Committee. In 2004, the number of refugees reached 140,000.
The massive arrival of refugees from Burma into Thailand posed serious health challenges, particularly as malaria was rife in the area. Dr Cynthia Maung, a medical doctor who fled the repression by the military regime in September 1988, established in February 1989 a small clinic in Mae Sot to provide health care to students and other refugees – almost 30 years after the Maeto clinic has developed into a full-fledged hospital providing care
to 400-500 persons a day.
The coming to power of the National League for Democracy in 2015 did not fundamentally altered the situation. There are still around 100,000 Burmese refugees in a number of large camps strung along the border. Voluntary returns under the UNCHR program and spontaneous returns are minimal. In parallel, human rights violations by Burmese soldiers against villagers in many border areas, including areas populated by Shan and Karen people have been continuing until today.
Sally Thompson, Executive director of The Border Consortium since 2012, joined what was then called the Burmese Border Consortium in 1991.
Jack Dunford is one the founder of the Burmese Border Consortium and was the executive director until 2012.
Charm Tong, a Shan teacher and human rights activist, is representing the Shan Human Rights Foundation.
Dr Cynthia Maung, founder and director of the Maeto clinic in Mae Sot. She was granted multiple awards for a dedicated work.