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Thailand: Give Sanctuary to Karen Refugees Fleeing Burmese Army Attacks

April 20th, 2021  •  Author:   41 Karen Community Organizations Worldwide  •  5 minute read
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For decades the Royal Thai government has hosted ethnic Karen refugees and other refugees from Burma and we are grateful for the sanctuary we have been given in the past.

Now, once again, our fellow Karen are fleeing attacks by the Burmese military. More than 20,000 people have been forced to flee their homes in the past four months. Several thousand fled to Thailand but were forced to return.

Refugees forced to go back to Burma

Thai army forces refugees back to Burma

As Karen people we do not want to have to flee our homes and seek safety in other countries, such as Thailand. We only want to live in peace in our homeland.

Now that our country is once again under direct military rule, and the military dictatorship is brutally killing unarmed protesters, including children, many people from central Burma are fleeing to ethnic states, including Karen State.

Since December 2020 the military have been breaking the ceasefire agreements and sending patrols across lines into Karen National Union territory that they are not supposed to cross without permission. Local villages have been threatened and people warned they could be used as forced labour to carry military supplies.

The Burmese military also started to fire mortar bombs into civilian areas bombing villages and farms. Thousands more soldiers and supplies have been brought into Karen State.

On 27th March the Burmese military began using fighter jets to bomb civilian villages. Around 20 people, including a child, have been killed and many more injured. Homes and schools have been destroyed.

Attacks against the Karen people are already increasing with shelling and mortar bombs happening regularly for several months. Jets continue to fly over Karen State and more bombings can take place at any time. With more soldiers still arriving in Karen state and with significantly improved technology and firepower in the past ten years, the warning signs are clear. There is a real danger of tens or even hundreds of thousands of people being forced to flee escalating attacks by the Burmese military. This will create a human rights and humanitarian crises with international implications, especially for Thailand.

We understand there is also significant Burmese military build-up in Shan State which could result in more conflict and displacement there as well. This will result in many more people seeking safety in Thailand.

We appreciate the challenges that this places on the Royal Thai government, especially at a time when there is a global pandemic.

We would like to call on the Royal Thai government to take the following steps to respond to this crisis:

  1. The best solution is to avoid people being displaced in the first place. The Royal Thai government should urgently use all its diplomatic resources to persuade the Burmese military to stop bombings in Karen State and to stop fighter jets flying over the area, as these cause displacement because villagers fear bombings. The Burmese military should reverse the increase in soldiers in ethnic states along the Thailand Burma border. Reducing their presence will reduce human rights violations and displacement, meaning people will not need to flee to Thailand.
  2. The incidents of the week of the 29th March, where Karen people who had crossed into Thailand were told to return, caused negative international media coverage and diplomatic pressure on Thailand. There were no winners in this situation. The refugees went back to an area they felt unsafe in, and the reputation of Thailand suffered. The Royal Thai government must put in place arrangements so that Karen refugees, and refugees from Burma who have fled the crackdown since the coup, are able to stay in Thailand temporarily and can be safely isolated to ensure there is no danger of Covid spreading.
  3. If displaced people in Karen State have no food or shelter, out of desperation they will be more likely to seek to travel to Thailand. People who have fled their homes see Thailand as a last resort. Their preference is to try to stay close to their villages in the hope they can return. We urge the Royal Thai government to reconsider its restrictions on humanitarian assistance for displaced people in Karen State. It is causing immense suffering but also counter-productive to the interests of Thailand, as it will also increase the numbers of people seeking sanctuary in Thailand.


  1. International Karen Organisation
  2. European Karen Network
  3. Karen Community Association- UK
  4. Karen Community of Canada
  5. Australian Karen Organisation
  6. Karen Organization of America
  7. Karen Swedish Community
  8. Karen Community in Norway
  9. Finland Karen Culture Association 
  10. Denmark Karen Organisation
  11. Karen Community the Netherlands
  12. Karen Community of Ireland 
  13. Karen Community of Israel 
  14. Karen Community of Finland 
  15. Karen Community of Czech Republic
  16. Korea Karen Organization
  17. Korea Karen Youth Organization
  18. Oversea Karen Organization Japan
  19. Karen Thai Group 
  20. Karen Community Society of British Columbia
  21. Calgary Karen Community Association
  22. Edmonton Karen Community Youth Organization
  23. Karen Community of Lethbridge
  24. Karen Community of Regina
  25. Karen Community of Saskatoon
  26. Karen Community of Winnipeg
  27. Karen Community of Thunderbay
  28. Karen Community of Toronto
  29. Karen Community of Kitchener & Waterloo
  30. Karen Community of Hamilton
  31. Karen Community of London
  32. Karen Community of Windsor
  33. Karen Community of Leamington
  34. Karen Youth of Toronto
  35. Karen Community of Ottawa
  36. Karen Youth of Norway
  37. Karen Youth Organization
  38. Karen Youth Networks
  39. Karen Society of Nebraska 
  40. Karen Student Association at UNO
  41. Karen Community of Minnesota

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