More than 4,000 refugees, most of them Catholics, entered the Thailand border areas over a week ago
This photo taken on Feb. 14, 2022, shows Myanmar refugees, who fled a surge in violence as the military cracked down on rebel groups, at a camp in Nawphewlawl near the Myanmar-Thailand border in Kayin state. (Photo by AFP)
A Thai bishop has appealed his flock to welcome and help refugees who arrived over a week ago from civil war-torn areas of Myanmar.
More than 4,000 refugees, most of them Catholics, have entered the Thailand border areas and are “knocking at our front doors, seeking refuge,” said Bishop Francis Xavier Vira Arporndratana of Chiang Mai diocese on June 22.
They were provided humanitarian assistance by Chettha Mosikkharat, governor of Mae Hong Son province along with his deputy, officials, and the Red Cross, besides survival kits donated by local people, the Bangkok Post reported.
Chettha said that as director of the Thai-Myanmar border administration center, he had updated state agencies on the situation. Thailand will remain neutral in the conflict but officials and security agencies will provide humanitarian aid to the refugees, he reportedly added.
The bishop’s appeal for food and shelter came despite the governor’s assurance of providing assistance as his diocese covers four northern provinces of Thailand, including Mae Hong Son.
The St. Genoveva Parish has registered “around 4,000 Catholics and more than 1,400 Buddhists” who had fled from Myanmar’s Loikaw diocesan area, the bishop said.
“At present, they are in need of food, materials to make tents for shelter and toilets. We are invited to welcome and let them feel included, being at home away from home,” he said during his welcome address at the Serra International, a forum of some 20,000 laypeople and permanent deacons from 44 nations.
The Karenni National Women’s Organization (KNWO) which is based in north-west Thailand said the refugees who are mostly elderly, women, pregnant and children are in urgent need of food, shelter and other material needs for proper shelter.
“We have supported the basic needs of them but they are in dire need of further aid including food,” the KNWO said on its Facebook page.
The refugees were forced to flee following fierce fighting since June 13 between the military and the combined forces of the Karenni Army and local people’s defense forces in Mae Jae and Phaung Saung townships in Kayah state close to the Thai border, according to local rights groups and media reports.
The junta reportedly used airstrikes after the rebel groups attacked its three outposts and a police station.
“It’s difficult for them to get support from the local Church as the road from Loikaw to Mae Jae, near the Thailand border, has been blocked due to the fighting,” a church source in Kayah state said on the condition of not revealing his name.
Myanmar’s military has stepped up attacks on resistance forces in Christian majority areas of Kayah, Chin, and Karen states while its troops also burned several villages in the Bamar heartland of Sagaing and Magwe regions where it faces stiff resistance.
At least 3,688 people have been killed and more than 23,000 have been arrested since the February 2021 military coup, according to a local monitoring group.
“I’m worried that the deepening crisis in Myanmar has become invisible to much of the world, and that some governments are beginning to think that the junta’s tyranny is inevitable. This narrative is exactly what the junta wants and needs to prevail,” Thomas Andrews, UN special rapporteur on Myanmar said after concluding a nine-day visit to Indonesia on June.21.
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