Thailand, the birthplace of Handicap International (HI) in 1982, hosts large numbers of refugees from Burma. The organisation works in the refugee camps, providing artificial limbs for the victims of anti-personnel landmines and raising awareness of the dangers posed by these weapons, promoting the inclusion of vulnerable people and people with disabilities in their communities and improving the living conditions of children in refugee camps. Today, over 200 people work for HI in Thailand.
Areas of intervention
Physical rehabilitation, prosthetics and orthotics
Including people with disabilities in society
Supporting the victims of landmines
Educating civilians about the risks from landmines and explosive remnants of war
HI was set up in Thailand in 1982 by two French doctors. The initial aim was to help the refugees living in camps set up along the border with Cambodia, offering orthopaedic fitting to people with disabilities or those who had lost limbs as a result of landmine accidents. By 1984, HI was also helping refugees from Burma, and soon Thailand, who had also become victims of anti-personnel landmines. These activities in the country led to the opening of fifteen limb-fitting workshops, which now form part of Thailand’s network of provincial hospitals.
In 1996, the organisation focused its action on nine Burmese refugee camps and on neighbouring Thai villages. It reinforced the self-reliance of people with disabilities by supplying locally-produced prostheses and adapted devices (orthoses, crutches, walkers, special seats, etc.). Physiotherapy was offered to victims of landmines, to children with cerebral palsy, and to adults who had suffered a stroke. HI continues to pursue these actions in five of the nine camps for Burmese refugees in Thailand.
Pending the complete clearance of landmines from the border areas between Burma and Thailand, HI continues to raise awareness amongst refugees of the danger posed by landmines and other explosive remnants of war. These information campaigns should reduce the risks they face when they return to Burma in the future.
The organisation also runs a social inclusion project for Burmese refugees with disabilities, improving their access to the various services available in the camps. As a result, people with disabilities now have access to education, professional training and primary health care.
There are more than 109,000 Burmese refugees living in Thailand. The route back home is littered with vast numbers of anti-personnel mines.
Thailand is one of the main countries hosting asylum-seekers and refugees from Burma. Since 1984, the country has seen an influx of populations fleeing political violence in Burma and, more recently, of economic migrants. However, the situation in Burma has evolved since 2011, mainly thanks to political changes in the country, and the number of refugees living in the camps has been declining steadily. Even so, their number is still estimated at more than 109,000. Living conditions are extremely precarious in the nine camps set up along the Burma/Thailand border, where HI works, especially for people with disabilities. Refugees are heavily reliant on the humanitarian aid provided by international NGOs and local organisations.
Burma is beginning to open up, but the border region is still blighted by the presence of countless landmines. These weapons constitute a major obstacle to the refugees returning to their country of origin on a voluntary and permanent basis.
1- Number of refugees on the Burma/Thailand border, according to The Border Consortium (TBC).
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