Refugees Facing Rising Food Costs as COVID-19 Restrictions Disrupts Supplies to Thai-Burma Border Camps

Restrictions imposed by public health officials to try to contain recent Covid-19 outbreaks and the spread of infections in Thailand, including in the refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border has resulted in a shortage of consumer goods getting to the refugee community.

Refugee camp residents said the rising price of food items and shortages of food supplies in the camps because of COVID-19 restrictions is causing problems.

Refugees told Karen News their situation will get more difficult the longer the epidemic continues and if travel restrictions remain.

Naw Keh Paw, a resident of Umphiem Refugee camp said that since the delay of consumer goods coming into the camp, prices of food items have increased. Refugees are now relying on food rations provided by The Border Consortium, a non-governmental organization providing food and shelters for refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border.

Speaking to Karen News, Naw Keh Paw said.

“Prices are rising fast. A bottle of cooking oil used to cost 40 baht, now it is over 50 baht. Rice used to cost us 600 baht to 650 baht a sack, now it cost us 750 baht. As we can’t go out and work, we don’t have any income to offset the rises. We rely only on TBC provisions. We can’t go and borrow from each other because we are all in the same situation.”

As Covid-19 outbreaks increased in Thailand including in the border refugee camps, Thai authorities ordered travel be restricted in and out of the camps. This has resulted in refugee camps along Thai-Burma border facing disruptions to delivery of goods, forcing prices higher and creating shortages of food supplies.

Camp residents are buying food items from local shops
Vendors said the restrictions of getting in and out of refugee camps has created difficulties getting goods to refugees.

Naw Wah Nay Paw, a vender at Mae La refugee camp said her shelves are almost empty, as she can’t resupply them. Naw Wah Nay Paw said vendors are having to buy goods of traders at a higher price leaving them with little choice, but to increase prices in the camp.

Speaking to Karen News, Naw Wah Nay Paw said.

“Prices of all products are increasing because we cannot get products and there are not many products left in the shop. As I bought some of my products earlier [before restriction], the price did not rise. But some prices, such as onions and beans are higher because I bought them at higher prices.”

Naw Wah Nay Paw said if the current situation continues, it will be hard on camp residents as most shops and stalls have nothing left and there is also a shortage of fresh fruit and vegetables.

“If it remains like this for two or three months, the situation will be bad. People in the camps spend a lot of money on food everyday because products in all the big shops are gone. In the past few days, we could not get meat and fish and we couldn’t get fruits and vegetables. I still open my shop as I still have some goods left. For other shop, it’s hard for them to keep it open as their goods have sold out.”

Naw Htee Lah Hay, a schoolteacher at Mae La Refugee Camp said small vegetables gardens outside the camp are now inaccessible and foraging for food in the nearby jungle is not possible because of current restrictions. Naw Htee Lah Hay said the situation was creating difficulties for many refugees as meat and vegetable traders outside the camp are not allowed to enter the camps and refugee families and students at boarding houses in the camp are not able to get fresh vegetables.

“Some people in the camps grow their own vegetables. Some go out to find vegetables in the forest and sell them in the camp. It is now difficult to do this as they cannot go in and out of the camp. There are many school dormitories in the camp and dorm students are having difficulties because vegetables and meat traders’ cars cannot enter the camp. Theft has increased and it is now dangerous – if it continues there will be more problems in the future.”

To try to relieve the hardship refugee camp residents are experiencing, the camp committee said they will talk to Thai authorities and Thai camp officials about recent rises of consumer goods and to try to find ways to get supplies in to the camp while following Covid-19 prevention measures.

Saw Sunday, a camp Committee Member at Mae La told Karen News that since the discussion with Thai authorities some goods had arrived.

“Thai authorities said they will find way for goods to get to the camp, whether it is dry or wet products.” Saw Sunday said. “However, goods would not be able to enter the camp, residents would have to pick it up outside the camp at a designated place and follow specific prevention guidelines. We will consult with camp officials and Thai officials to make arrangements to prevent the disease spreading into the camp.”

The Thai Ministry of Public Health said as of August 3, 2021 there are 652,185 people infected and 5,315 deaths from COVID-19. The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), estimated there are as many as 100,000 refugees in the nine Karen and Karenni (Kayah) refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border.

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