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The popular travel destination Thailand is under fire after reportedly pushing back thousands of fleeing Myanmar refugees. The country has been a popular destination for travelers fleeing worldwide covid lockdowns for “warmer pastures.” As seen in the video below posted on NBC News on March 29, 2021, Thai soldiers appear to be standing guard as Ethnic Karen refugees board boats back to Myanmar.
According to the activist group Karen Information Center, thousands of refugees are hiding in the jungle after being forced back into Myanmar from Thailand. Over the weekend, the junta led by General Min Aung Hlaing reportedly killed over 100 people and has conducted airstrikes in the southeast part of the country. The Karen National Union (KNU) said 3,000 people crossed the Salween River into Thailand, and 2,000 were pushed back.
David Eubank, the founder of the relief organization Free Burma Rangers, said it was the first time in 20 years that airstrikes had been carried out in the area. Myanmar has been in a state of turmoil since February 1 when a military-sponsored coup seized control of the country and deposed Aung San Suu Kyi’s elected government. These past few days have been the deadliest since protests began last month against the regime.
Officials in Thailand are denying the claims and are calling the reports “inaccurate,” according to a spokesman for Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs. Previously Thailand has hosted tens of thousands of refugees in nine main camps along its border with Myanmar for three decades, following armed conflicts, human rights abuses, and persecution of ethnic minorities by the Myanmar military.
Since the coup, the military regime has killed at least 510 people, with 14 shot dead on Monday, March 29, including children and young people, reports the advocacy group Assistance Association for Political Prisoners (AAPP).
U.S. President Joe Biden told reporters his administration is working on a response but offered no details. The United States has already levied new sanctions on the junta, as have other countries — but they have had little effect so far.
“It’s terrible. It’s absolutely outrageous. Based on the reporting I’ve gotten, an awful lot of people have been killed. Totally unnecessary,” Biden said.
Britain called for a closed meeting of the U.N. Security Council which will be held Wednesday afternoon, council diplomats said ahead of an official announcement. The council has condemned the violence and called for a restoration of democracy but has not yet considered possible sanctions against the military, which would require support or an abstention by Myanmar’s neighbor and friend China.
A spokesperson for the Karen Peace Support Network, a group of Karen civil society organizations in Myanmar, said, “They told them it was safe to go back even though it is not safe. They were afraid to go back, but they had no choice.” In addition to those who have fled to Thailand, an estimated 10,000 people are believed to be displaced inside Myanmar’s northern Karen state, according to the Free Burma Rangers.
In one border area, Thai soldiers refused to let journalists or curious locals approach or speak to those who had fled.
Written by Ebonee Stevenson
Edited by Cathy Milne-Ware
Associated Press: Thousands flee Myanmar airstrikes, complicating crisis; by Tassanee Vejpongsa
CNN: Thailand pushes back thousands fleeing Myanmar as death toll surpasses 500; by Kocha Olarn and Helen Regan
Featured Image Courtesy of Lim Ashley’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License
Inset Image Courtesy of Paul Arp’s Flickr Page – Creative Commons License