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Thousands spill across Thai border amid flight from clashes in Myanmar’s Kayin state

Refugees are enduring extremely unsanitary conditions with just a few toilets for thousands of people

Thousands of people in Myawaddy township in Myanmar’s Kayin state have been displaced by fighting between the military and anti-junta forces over the past two weeks, officials and relief groups said Wednesday, with more than one-third having crossed the border to Thailand.

The exodus began on December 15, according to sources, when government troops engaged with members of the local prodemocracy People’s Defense Force and the armed branch of the ethnic Karen National Union — known as the Karen National Liberation Army — in Myawaddy’s Lay Kay Kaw area.

Since then, more than 16,000 residents of Lay Kay Kaw and the surrounding villages of Phlu Gyi, Phlulay, Rathegu, Hyeemae Warkhi, Mae Htaw Thale and Pahikalaw have fled for safety. Of those, an estimated 6,000 people have crossed the border into neighboring Thailand’s Tak province to escape the violence.

Naw Say Say, the general secretary of the Women’s League of Burma, which helps refugees along the Thailand-Myanmar border, told RFA’s Myanmar Service that many of the people who have crossed into Thailand are sheltering at a cattle ranch near Mae Sot township’s Mae Kot Kin village.

“As far as we know, there are tens of thousands of people [displaced] from more than 10 villages on the Myanmar side,” she said. “They are moving from place to place, and it’s hard to get the exact numbers.”

Naw Say Say added that there is a shortage of necessities like clothes, medicine, food and shelter for the refugees.

Rescue workers told RFA the refugees suffered from an outbreak of cholera beginning on Dec. 20 due to lack of clean water but that the situation has since improved.

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Ye Min of the Thailand-based Aid Alliance Committee said his group is trying to locate a site for a more permanent camp on the Thai side of the border but is facing difficulties due to the large number of refugees who have crossed over from Myanmar.

“There isn’t enough space for everyone because we received more than 5,000 people without any prior notice,” he said.

“Some are now taking shelter in a barn, but the place had to be cleared up first. And then we put new tents in the open field, and it was hot. It’s very hot at night as they must sleep on plastic sheets. The situation is very difficult.”

He said the refugees are enduring extremely unsanitary conditions with just a few toilets for thousands of people. The aid committee is working to expand facilities, he said.

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