Officials in Thailand are preparing for a surge in refugees from Myanmar as hundreds have fled the country since last month’s military coup to seek refuge in regions controlled by ethnic militias on the Thai border, Reuters reported. Thai authorities have already established areas to shelter more than 43,000 people in the Mae Sot district in western Thailand that shares a border with Myanmar to the west.
According to Thai army colonel Prasan Henprasert, border patrols have also been increased to prepare for the influx of refugees.
“If there are clashes, then we have to assess the situation and have areas prepared,” he said. “Based on our experience, many people may cross and go back when the situation is safer because they have their homes on the other side.”
An official from the Karen National Union (KNU), a political organization with an army that claims to represent the Karen people of Myanmar, said that a thousand people were sheltering inside KNU-controlled territory.
“Hundreds of people are now in our area,” Padoh Saw Taw Nee, the KNU’s head of foreign affairs, said in an interview, Reuters reported.
“Some are strike leaders, some are involved in CDM (civil disobedience), government staff ... deserters of police and military and then also some MPs [members of parliament] and doctors,” he added, also noting that a smaller number of people are seeking shelter north on the border with Shan state, which is controlled by a separate ethnic militia
There are more than two dozen ethnic militia in Myanmar’s borderlands. Many of those armed groups, including the KNU, have censured the coup.
“We strongly support [the] CDM movement and people’s demonstration,” Padoh Saw Taw Nee said.
Since the unrest first broke out, at least 217 people in opposition to the coup have been killed by Myanmar’s security forces, the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners, a civil rights group in Myanmar, reported on Thursday. As of March 17, more than 2,000 people have also been arrested, charged or sentenced.