Thailand/Myanmar: Supporting return and integration
Yaw Eah Pow, 24, was just five when she fled with her parents from the violence in Myanmar, their home country. For four months, she hid in the woods from her persecutors in a constant state of fear with almost nothing to eat before she managed to flee across the border into Thailand. Now she is married, with four children of her own.
Like thousands of others, those children have lived their whole lives in the Mae La Oon refugee camp. However, Yaw Eah Pow is happy that they have been able to grow up safe and healthy there. “Thanks to Malteser International, we even have a hospital where my children and I can receive care for free. I had the best treatment there during my pregnancies,” she said. Yaw Eah Pow’s greatest wish is to be able to take her family back to her home in Myanmar and to live there in peace, with the chance for her and her husband to work, and for her children to get an education. Yaw Eah Pow and her family are amongst around 100,000 people – mostly members of ethnic minorities – who fled Myanmar because of harassment by the military government and armed violence, and now live in the nine refugee camps along the border between Myanmar and Thailand. Many of them have been refugees, most of them unregistered, for decades, and have lived in the camps for most of their lives. Inhabitants are not allowed to leave the camps, and have almost no opportunities to earn a living. International aid organizations take care of their basic needs, and the Thai government guarantees their security. Malteser International has been providing aid in the camps since 1993, and since 2012 we have also been working in Myanmar’s Kayin State to improve conditions for the refugees’ possible return.
Aid across the border
Our projects in support of Myanmar refugees in Thailand follow a three-tiered approach. Firstly, we provide medical care, water and sanitation facilities in the camps and train nurses, midwives, and medical assistants from amongst the refugees. This fosters useful skills that help them to achieve a degree of independence and self-reliance. Secondly, we strengthen the Thai healthcare system by providing training opportunities and improving services in villages near to the camp, so that refugees who wish to remain in Thailand can be integrated effectively. Thirdly, we work to improve the water supply, medical and sanitary facilities in border villages in Myanmar, to prepare them for the eventual return of the refugees to their country of origin.
Helping refugees return
The social infrastructure in parts of Myanmar’s Kayin State is profoundly underdeveloped. This is partly a consequence of the conflict that has been underway between government troops and the Karen National Union since 1948. The region is one of the poorest in Myanmar. “Malaria, dengue fever, diarrhea, and respiratory diseases like tuberculosis are widespread, and in many cases deadly,” said Kyaw Lain, who works for Malteser International as a Community Health Facilitator in Kayin. “There is a lack of medication and qualified medical personnel: nobody can afford a doctor here. Even the water supply and sanitation in the villages and schools are very poor.”
Kyaw Lain spent 13 years living in one of the Malteser International supported refugee camps in Thailand, before he returned to Myanmar in January 2015. As soon as the basic necessities are securely in place, he will bring his wife and three children across the border to join him. We are working to improve living conditions and infrastructure in 114 border villages to prepare them to receive refugees returning from Thailand by making improvements such as constructing health posts and schools, which we also equip with sanitary facilities and a reliable supply of secure drinking water. One of our main concerns is providing a better level of medical care in the region.
Health for mothers and children
A good example of this effort is our work for mothers and children. Midwives like Hto Lwe Htoo help to lower the region’s high rate of mother, infant, and child death. The 26-year old also spent ten years living in a Thai refugee camp. “Malteser International trained me in the camp, and I worked as a midwife there for four years to start with, before I came to Myanmar at the start of 2015” she said. “I work here with four other midwives, and together we care for around fifty mothers and pregnant women every day. Now there are Mother and Child Groups in 114 villages where women can come for help and advice with problems like high-risk pregnancies, giving birth safely, healthy eating, and vaccination.” These groups are regularly attended by between twenty and fifty women each. Hto Lwe Htoo is proud that she can make a contribution to improving medical care for people in her home country. She returns to Thailand twice a year to visit her mother and sisters, who still live in the camps there. She hopes that she will be able to live with them in Myanmar one day.
Read more about Malteser International's projects in Thailand and Myanmar
Facts and figures
In Thailand we provided (2015):
- 6 health facilities in the refugee camps
- medical treatment for 70,155 patients,
- access to clean drinking water for 50,282 refugees and local people
In Myanmar we provided (2015):
- malaria prevention measures for 5,474 people
- post and ante-natal care for 2,414 women