Report on Thai Burma Border Consortium’s Response
Partnership with the Thai Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) enables Global Ministries to reach out to refugees from the violence inMyanmarwho are surviving in refugee camps along the Thai Burma Border. The TBBC was established in 1976 by a group of organizations, including theChurchofChristinThailand. Global Ministries has related to the TBBC since its beginnings.
The ruling party inMyanmar, the State Peace and Development Council, has ruled with an iron fist and has discriminated against many ethnic minority groups (non-Burmese) for most of the last twenty years. These ethnic minorities – Karen, Shan, and others – have been routinely subjected to extrajudicial killings, forced village relocations (to make room for state-sponsored development projects), rape of women, and forced conscription of women and children to serve as porters, sexual slaves, and/or combatants for the military. For these populations, safety in a Thai refugee camp, however limiting, is a vast improvement.
On February 23, 2012, a fire tore through the Umpiem Mai Camp, home to over 17,600 refugees from Burma. The blaze destroyed an estimated 422 shelters (home to 566 families), and damaged 351 others. Two nursery schools, two mosques, one security office, and one Muslim Women’s Association office were destroyed. 1,773 refugees lost everything, including their monthly food rations that they had received the day before the fire.
The immediate need was to provide food and non-food items such as blankets, mats, mosquito nets cooking pots and kitchen utensils to refugees affected by the fire and to assist refugees to rebuild 422 houses and repair 351 houses.
TBBC worked with the camp committee to issue emergency food to 566 affected families staying in temporary sites or with relatives. Community kitchens were established at all temporary sites, where food was prepared and then distributed. 1,773 refugees received a new food ration for the month, having lost their original ones in the fire. TBBC also provided 1,773 refugees with essential non-food items immediately following the fire, including 2,400 blankets, 2,444 mats, 989 mosquito nets, 1,698 cooking pots, and 566 sets of kitchen utensils. Other agencies also contributed non-food items.
The TBBC Shelter team designed a ‘model’ tent for people to use as an example when building emergency shelters, which required two tarpaulins (one for the ground sheet), three bamboo poles, some rope and wire. The United Nations High Commissioner on Refugees (UNHCR) provided the tarpaulins and TBBC provided wire, rope and bamboo poles. These tents provided temporary shelter to 1,773 refugees as they waited for the more permanent shelter materials to be delivered to the camp. TBBC provided new tool sets to 16 carpenters who helped people build their emergency shelters and houses. TBBC also provided one large building knife to each household, to enable families to re-build their own homes, and hasten the reconstruction. Two standard building sizes were developed based on Sphere standards and the local context, using a maximum floor distance of 28m² for a house with five people or less, and 39m² for six or more people. With input from the community, TBBC estimated quantities and types of materials needed to build a house of each size.
Out of the 422 houses that were completely destroyed, 393 houses have been rebuilt, providing shelter to 1,651 refugees. Six of the remaining 29 houses are waiting to be completed, as the other 23 houses no longer need to be replaced due to the families having moved to another section in the camp where there were empty houses as a result of other refugees having resettled or left camp altogether. The remaining six houses are now near completion.
All 351 houses have been repaired. Some shelter materials arrived late, which resulted in delays in delivering shelter supplies to a few of the houses in need of repair. These refugees, with help from the distribution team and section leaders, were able to find the materials for themselves to ensure they were able to repair their houses prior to the rainy season.
Most of the building was done by the refugees themselves. In instances where refugees were unable to build their own houses, due to health reasons or being physically disabled, TBBC provided assistance through theCampCommittee.
An estimated 25 volunteer refugees were involved in the rebuilding efforts and TBBC provided them with a small stipend. Carpenters were on site and provided with a stipend to advise on best building practices. Zawmow, a resident in Umpiem Mai, whose roof was dismantled to act as a fire break, commented that “although it was terrible to see so many houses destroyed in such little time, the houses that are being rebuilt are of better quality than those before.”
There were challenges that needed to be met:
- When undertaking the needs-based assessment, data from the section leaders did not match up with the TBBC population database. It, therefore, took time to ascertain exactly how many houses had been destroyed and how many families affected. In addition, those affected by the fire moved from one section in the camp to another section, making it difficult to collect accurate data and keep track of the population figures. This resulted in an adjustment to the number of actual people who received assistance against the estimated number included in initial proposals.
- Sourcing bamboo and thatch for roofing was a challenge at the particular time of year due to the harvesting season for bamboo being in November and limited quantities being available in the period after the fire. This made it difficult for suppliers to provide sufficient good quality bamboo and thatch to TBBC and resulted in some delays in delivery.
The response to the Umpiem Mai Fire Emergency Appeal was so positive that TBBC received over and above what was required to fund the response to the fire. TBBC member organizations, other non-governmental organizations working with refugees, and individuals all made very generous donations that enabled TBBC to ensure that refugees had access to food, vital non-food items, and a roof over their heads. Case studies demonstrated the impact that the funding had in helping these refugees cope with having lost everything in the fire. TBBC also thanks donors who were willing to have their donation partially reallocated to other TBBC projects.