Humanitarian operations at the Thai-Burma/Myanmar border have changed since the 2015 Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement (NCA) and the electoral victory of the National League of Democracy (NLD). However, they continue to be very important for the lives of many local communities. The beginning of what many expect to be a sustainable peace process and the establishment of a civilian government has brought about changes in the borderlands that are not always the same as those seen within the country at large. Taking a glimpse at cases in Mae Sot (Tak province of Thailand), this report explores the current situation of actors and communities beyond the humanitarian mainstream. In particular, what are the consequences of the shifting international priorities at the borders? Who are left out as a result? What does it mean to be operating legally ambiguously after 2015?
During conversations with various humanitarian providers in a short trip to the border town of Mae Sot and its surrounding area, three recurrent problems were particularly salient. Firstly, after 2015, it has become increasingly difficult for various border organisations to persist in an unrecognised and even illicit status. Secondly, international perceptions view the peace process as reaching a lot further than it actually does in reality, and this has had the effect of hiding the conflict and problems in peripheral areas. Thirdly, the rush and pressure for repatriation from the borders and for development inside the country has come at the cost of direct and immediate humanitarian relief at the border. The direction of international attention and funding is then increasingly moving exclusively into the centre of the country, into development, and only for government approved operations. These changes affects some groups more, where certain communities are effectively prioritised over others. In particular, organisations that provide material provisions such as healthcare, those that work in rebel territory, those perceived to be affiliated with ethnic armed groups, and groups that allow the use of arms in dangerous territories are among the most controversial. Unfortunately, these are also often the groups that provide the most urgent services to communities in the most troubled and inaccessible areas.
Thus, different pressures have mounted at the borderland, where socio-political changes within the country are threatening even the most resilient humanitarian groups that have survived years and even decades of conflict. This report highlights that the periphery of the country needs more attention, taking note of the consequences of the asymmetric and not always positive changes that took place since 2015.
Download the complete report here: updates_from_the_burma-thai_border.pdf