This is a summary of what was said by the UNHCR spokesperson at today’s Palais des Nations press briefing in Geneva. Further information can be found on the UNHCR websites, http://www.unhcr.org and http://www.unhcr.fr, which should also be checked for regular media updates on non-briefing days.
Today and yesterday we have sent our staff to villages and a cave in northern Thailand to find out more details about a group of Karen people who have fled across the Moei River from Myanmar since last Wednesday.
Estimates of the number vary greatly from about 2,000 people to some 6,400, and one of the first things we would like to do is ascertain the number of people who are in the five sites near Mae Sot.
They are staying in temples and in homes in four villages and in one case, in a cave accessible only by river and by a 40-minute climb up a steep mountain which is very slippery right now because it is raining heavily.
From our preliminary discussions with the few new Karen arrivals we have been able to talk with, it seems some were fleeing actual fighting between the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, which is allied with government forces, and the rebel Karen National Union (KNU). Others say they were fleeing forced recruitment or forced labour by government forces.
A number of the people who have fled to Thailand were already displaced within their own country. They were residents of the Ler Per Her camp for internally displaced persons run by the KNU within Karen-held territory inside Myanmar. All of the people in that camp fled to Thailand across the Moei River when it was shelled, they say.
Many of the people brought their belongings with them, and the Thailand-Burma Border Consortium, a group of non-governmental organizations providing aid to refugees, has supplied them with basic food, mosquito nets, pots and pans and blankets. UNHCR has also given them plastic sheeting.
Most of the new arrivals say they want to stay as close to their villages as possible in order to go home quickly once the situation calms down because they left cattle behind and because it is time to begin planting rice.
UNHCR is working closely with Thai authorities to best respond to the needs of the new arrivals.