The Border Consortium, which delivers aid to the refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border that are home to around 130,000 refugees, has clarified its policy on rice ration cuts to Karen News and denied that the cuts are intended to encourage the return of refugees to Burma.
The Border Consortium said that rice cuts would occur in seven out of the nine camps. TBC’s latest camp population figures from November 2013 estimate that close to 110,000 refugees receive food rations in these [seven camps].
In an email to Karen News, TBC spokesperson, Mike Bruce, confirmed that conditions in Burma were not suitable for refugee return.
“TBC wishes to emphasise that these changes are in no way intended to encourage refugees to return to Burma/Myanmar prematurely. TBC, The Union Government of the Republic of Myanmar, the Royal Thai Government, and TBC’s international partners all agree that conditions do not yet exist for the organised return of refugees.” Mr. Bruce said.
Camp Teachers Express Outrage At Cuts
But camp residents have expressed anger at the introduction of reduced rations. On the 6th of January, teachers in Nu Poe Refugee Camp went on strike in response to the rice cut, claiming that 8kgs was not enough to live.
Sources from the Karen Student Network Group (KSNG) told Karen News that the teachers felt that their meager annual salary of 7,200 baht (USD$220) was not enough and that the cuts to 8 kg would make it harder to feed themselves. Some teachers said they would be forced to find work outside the camps as day laborers on Thai farms in order to support their family, KSNG said.
Eh Paung, a teacher from the Karen Economic Development Course (KEDC), said that with so little pay, the teachers were now essentially volunteers.
“If they cut our rations, it’s hard for us to live,” he said.
KSNG said that TBC officials would meet with the teachers to discuss the issue on the 14th of January.
The New Ration Scheme
TBC are classifying refugees into the following categories – Self-reliant, Standard, Vulnerable and Most Vulnerable.
Mr. Bruce said that the rations for Vulnerable households would be 12kgs of rice a month, while those deemed Most Vulnerable would receive 13.5 KG a month, a 1.5kgs increase over current levels, but still lower than the 15kgs ration level in late 2011.
The standard rice ration for adults over 18 years of age is now 8kgs.
Mr Bruce said that the respective communities in each camp would define the criteria for the categories.
“This is one of the central elements of the changes and Community Managed Targeting (CMT); the transition to giving the community more direct input and control over their food supply.” He said, adding, “So while TBC works with the community on defining the criteria; each camp’s CMT team defines the criteria based on the unique circumstances of their camp” and which households fall into each category.”
Mr. Bruce also noted, “there is also an extensive and transparent appeals process so that households that disagree with their assessments can appeal.”
When asked, the TBC estimated that around three quarters of refugee’s “border-wide” would face rice cuts and be classed as Standard, with around 25% being deemed either Vulnerable or Most Vulnerable. He added that around 3% would be classed as Self-Reliant. However, Ban Don Yang Camp would not face any ration cuts.
Mr. Bruce also said that these figures were estimates at this early stage, “The implementation and verification of these categories are ongoing and that this is not a final or static figure. It may fluctuate, and in fact is highly likely to do so,” he said.
In a breakdown of the rations cuts, Mr Bruce summarized the changes as follows:
– Only rice rations are being revised. No other food items are changing. Rations are not being reduced for any children under the age of 18. They will continue to receive 12 KG per month. Children in households designated as “Most Vulnerable” will receive additional food rations.
– Households in the 7 camps where rations are changing will be classified in one of four categories: Most Vulnerable, Vulnerable, Standard, and Self-Reliant.
– The revised rice ration for adults in each category includes: Most Vulnerable; 13.5 kg, Vulnerable; 12 kg, Standard; 8kg (Mae La, Nupo, Umpiem Ma), 10 KG at Tham Hin, Site 1, Mae La Oon, Mae Re Ma Luang. Ban Don Yang Camp would not face any ration cuts, remaining at 12 kg. Self-Reliant; food rations will only be provided to children under age 18. Children will continue to receive 12kgs a month.