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IPS: THAILAND: Women Refugees from

Subject: IPS: THAILAND: Women Refugees from Burma are Trapped in Prostitution

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>             [Image] THAILAND: Women Refugees from Burma are Trapped
>       BACK  [Image] in Prostitution
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> By Meena Menon
> MUMBAI, Apr 14 (IPS) - Harassed by Thai authorities and living in
> constant fear of the Burmese military, many women refugees from
> Burma on the Thai border have been forced into prostitution to
> provide for families, an Asian rights group says in a report
> released here recently.
> The Asian Women Human Rights Council (AWHRC), which sent a three
> member team to investigate rights violations and document sex
> trafficking last February, released its preliminary findings in
> India's financial capital, Mumbai (Bombay), ahead of next month's
> summit of South Asian leaders in the Maldives.
> AWHRC would like the Maldives meet to take note of the serious
> rights violations in Burma and in the refugee camps, and put
> pressure on the military junta in power in Rangoon to restore
> democracy in that country.
> Pointing out that the majority of refugees are women from Burma's
> ethnic minorities, the report says that ''illegal migrant work and
> large-scale trafficking has flourished ... (as the) Burmese refugees
> are impoverished, powerless and unprotected.''
> ''With their communities and families deprived of food, shelter,
> livelihood, peace and security, more and more Karen and Burmese
> women fall prey to the lucrative business of trafficking,'' it adds.
> The team's visit to Karen refugee camps in the Mae Sot district, in
> northern Thailand, coincided with the biggest assault since 1995 by
> the Burmese army against the armed rebels of the Karen National
> Union (KNU).
> An Indian member of the team Meena Seshu told the press that
> soldiers of the State Law and Order Restoration Council (SLORC), the
> Burmese military junta, were massed on the border which was very
> tense during their visit.
> Seshu said the women, broke down, as they told the team that they
> lived in constant fear of fresh attacks by the Burmese military who
> raided the camps and took away refugees to use them as forced labour
> in military offensives.
> According to a Karen Refugee Committee report, which AWRC cites,
> more than 35,000 minority Karen refugees in Thailand were affected
> in the first two months of 1997. Three refugee camps on the border
> were torched by the Burmese military which is seeking to crush
> resistance movements like the KNU, the largest of the ethnic
> insurgencies along Burma's border. The Karens are the second largest
> minority in Burma, after the Shan tribals.
> At least 100,000 Karens have fled Burma to refugee camps in
> Thailand, but even there they are not safe, said Seshu. Already
> about 1,000 refugees have been forced back to Burma, according to
> representatives of several humanitarian organisations.
> Local people interviewed by AWHRC said they suspect the Thai
> government is turning a blind eye to the Burmese raids on the border
> as a natural gas pipeline has been proposed through where the camps
> are located. Some even suggested a possible collusion between
> Bangkok and Rangoon to get the Karens out.
> AWHRC says that in view of the continuing ''extreme human rights
> violations in Burma and in the refugee camps, pressure should be
> brought on the ruling junta to restore peace and dignity in the
> country.''
> It is bitterly critical of the ''constructive engagement policy''
> being pursued by both ASEAN and EU member nations on Burma, which
> the rights groups says ''confers legitimacy on the SLORC regime''.
> Since it took over power in September 1988, SLORC has been
> targetting Burma's minority Karens and systematically suppressing
> human rights in the country. Violent ethnic conflict has forced an
> exodus of tens of thousands.
> Burmese women and girls have been the worst affected. It is
> estimated that at least 40,000 girls, between the age of 10 and 16,
> have been taken to work in brothels in Thailand.
> Though the team was not able to visit the brothels, the members
> interviewed many sex workers. They were told that at least five
> women have died of AIDS related complications in Mae Sot district
> alone since the beginning of the year.
> It takes only 10 baht to cross the border and traffickers have easy
> passage. One women who spoke to the team said prostitution was the
> first thing she thought of, when she found that it was impossible to
> find employment under the SLORC regime.
> ''We found that many of those in the brothels along the border were
> as young as 13. The girls were kept in a room and the conditions
> were pathetic, much worse than the brothels in Bombay,'' said the
> AWHRC's Seshu.
> ''Since a new Thai law punishes minors in prostitution, the whole
> practice had gone underground and most of these young girls are
> beyond the reach of health workers or given protective measures,''
> she pointed out.
> Because they have crossed the border illegally, their plight is
> worse. In many cases, they are tricked into prostitution -- brought
> from Burma's villages on the promise of jobs on Thai farms where
> they would be paid 40 bahts daily.
> An Asiawatch report claims the rate of HIV infection among the
> Burmese prostitutes was approximately three times higher than among
> women prostitutes in general in Thailand. A major reason for this is
> their powerlessness to demand safe sex.
> The AWHRC fact-finding mission was supported by the Foundation for
> Women (FFW) in Thailand. Apart from Seshu, who works with an Indian
> NGO Sangram, the two other members were Nelia Sancho, AWHRC-Manila
> co-ordinator and a researcher of FFW. (End/IPS/mm/an/97)