Thousands of Myanmar Karens entering Thailand illegally


Escaping cruel crackdown of the Myanmar military. Thousands of Karens as well as Myanmar nationals from other ethnic groups are illegally entering Thailand mostly from eastern Karen state. According to media reports, Myanmar military has been continuing the crackdown through air strikes and massive land assaults, mostly targeting innocent civilians. This is the biggest movement of refuges from Myanmar since the February 1 coup that overthrew the government of Aung San Suu Kyi.

Although the initial number of illegal migrants who already have entered Thailand were speculated to be over three thousand, according to a number of sources, the actual number is much higher.

Experts say, the cross-border exodus will fuel growing concerns that the conflict caused by the military’s seizure of power and attacks on civilians could have spillover effects in neighboring countries.

Non-governmental organizations and the Karen National Union, a rebel group representing Myanmar’s Karen ethnic minority, said people had crossed the Salween river separating the countries on Sunday.

According to NGOs in the area, the military dropped bombs and fired automatic weapons the previous day in territory held by the Karen National Liberation Army, the KNU’s armed wing, after the KNLA over-ran an army post.

On Monday evening, human rights groups said that Thai authorities had forced more than 2,000 of the refugees back into Myanmar. Thai government dismissed the reports that some of the Karen people who had fled were being forced back to Myanmar as inaccurate.

The Karen are one of several minority groups in Myanmar’s uplands that have been fighting the country’s military for decades. The KNU signed a ceasefire agreement in 2015.  The KNU has denounced the coup and lent its support to the mass civil disobedience movement opposing it. This has included allowing hundreds of people fleeing Myanmar’s ethnic Burmese heartland to shelter in the territory it controls.

Padoh Saw Taw Nee, head of the KNU’s foreign affairs department, told the Financial Times that further military attacks had sent about 4,000 more people fleeing into the jungle. “If the air strikes continue, they may find a way to cross the border and seek refuge in Thailand,” he said.

Thai PBS, Thailand’s public broadcaster, confirmed that about 3,000 people had arrived in the north-western Mae Hong Son province.

Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said his government was preparing for a potential influx of refugees from Myanmar “but how many — we are not talking about that”, according to Reuters.

“This is the first of what could be much larger refugee flows,” said Richard Horsey, senior Myanmar adviser to the International Crisis Group, adding that there was a risk of “more serious conflict”.

“The economic and security crisis in Myanmar may also drive major population displacement,” he added. Myanmar’s junta, led by General Min Aung Hlaing, has faced international condemnation for killing protesters and others, including children. Security forces have killed 459 people and detained more than 2,559, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a human rights group.

As many as 700 refugees have also arrived in north-eastern India, including police who defied orders to fire into protesting crowds, according to local media.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi’s government has taken a tough stance, with the home ministry instructing officials in four states bordering Myanmar to identify and deport those New Delhi deemed illegal migrants.

The Indian government has also told state officials they have no right or authority to dub the arrivals refugees. India is not a signatory to the UN convention on refugees and Narendra Modi’s government has traditionally taken a tougher stand against those it considers illegal migrants.

But local officials, who share close ties of culture and kinship with communities on Myanmar’s western border, have defied the instructions to crack down on the inflow, and many refugees are sheltering in local villages.

The latest influx came as New Delhi took the first steps towards implementing a longstanding plan to deport thousands of Muslim Rohingya who had fled earlier military crackdowns. In recent weeks, hundreds of Rohingya have been rounded up and put into camps in preparation for their removal from the country.

Meanwhile, West Bengal’s Trinamool Congress leadership are extending all-out cooperation to refugees from Myanmar especially the Rohingyas.

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