Tham Hin Camp Commander Suspended After Karen Refugees Protest Harsh Punishment and ‘Taxes’ on TV, Phones, Bicycles, Motorbikes and Use of Solar Panels

Refugees living in the Tham Hin Camp on the Thai-Burma Border in Ratchaburi Province staged a protest on September 22, demanding the removal of camp officials over physical abuses committed against camp residents.

Hundreds of camp residents from the Tham Hin refugee camp gathered to demand fair treatment by camp officials toward refugees after travel in and out of the camps were restricted. Refugees accused of breaking the tightened restrictions were punished by camp officials, including corporal punishment and fines.

A Tham Hin camp resident spoke to Karen News (with the condition of anonymity) said there are families and relatives who live inside and outside the camps and they would visit each other. The resident said the Thai Camp Commander or Palat has been too harsh on the issue.

“We demand rights for these families to be able to go in and out to see each other. We want the relevant authorities to negotiate on this issue as we have families both inside and outside.”

The camp resident said the camp commander is not understanding to the plight the refugees are in. “We don’t want this Palat anymore. We request a new Palat more sympathetic to our refugees.”

Camp residents alleged the Camp Commander or Palat is collecting taxes from camp residents for using TV, mobile phones, bicycles, motorbikes and solar panels as well as fining people who were found to be going in and out of the camp to visit relatives. Residents been constantly penalized and ‘taxed’ for using these everyday items led to the protest.

Staff from a camp service provider told Karen News about cases where the Camp Commander arrested residents and demanded money, and had resorted to using violence – slapping or kicking them.

“Sometimes, the Palat waits outside to arrest people coming into the camp, sometimes he physically harms them and fines the people excessively. He uses discriminatory words and talked down to the people. It’s not just one or two incidents – the accumulated cases led to this protest.”

After the protest, representatives from the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees, the Thai authorities and local camp committees held a meeting where a decision was made to suspend the current camp commander from his position and to return all the money he had taken from camp residents, according to local camp committee members.

As Burma is swept with a second wave of Covid-19, Thai authorities are tightening security along the Thai-Burma border, travel in and out of refugee camps along the border have also been restricted and tightened.

According to the latest figure from the Karen Refugee Committee (KRC) there are 5,446 people living in Tham Hin refugee camp. There are a total of nine refugee camps on the Thai Burma border with as many as 87,000 people living in them.

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