June 16, 2012

Burma Campaign UK today called on Andrew Mitchell, Secretary of State for International Development, to respond to Aung San Suu Kyi’s call in her Nobel Peace Prize speech for increased funding for refugees from Burma by doubling funding for the Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), which provides food and shelter to the refugees.

Speaking in Oslo, Norway, Aung San Suu Kyi delivered a direct appeal to governments to increase their funding stating: “When I was at the Maela refugee camp in Thailand recently, I met dedicated people who were striving daily to make the lives of the inmates as free from hardship as possible. They spoke of their concern over ‘donor fatigue,’ which could also translate as ‘compassion fatigue.’ ‘Donor fatigue’ expresses itself precisely in the reduction of funding. ‘Compassion fatigue’ expresses itself less obviously in the reduction of concern. One is the consequence of the other. Can we afford to indulge in compassion fatigue? Is the cost of meeting the needs of refugees greater than the cost that would be consequent on turning an indifferent, if not a blind, eye on their suffering? I appeal to donors the world over to fulfil the needs of these people who are in search, often it must seem to them a vain search, of refuge.”

Around 150,000 refugees from Burma live in camps on the Thailand Burma border. The refugees are facing ration cuts of 25 percent, and cuts in other essentials such clothing, blankets and shelter.

The reduction in vital supplies for refugees is due to two main reasons. One reason is that the European Union is reducing funding for TBBC. The other reason is that donors have not sufficiently increased funding to cover rising costs of essentials such as rice, and to compensate for lower exchange rates. The Department for International Development (DFID) and the EU have tried to deflect criticism for cutting or insufficiently funding TBBC by citing other refugee programmes they fund. These programmes are important, but should be in addition to funding essentials such as food and shelter, not instead of.

British aid to Burma has been quadrupled in recent years. In 2007 the International Development Committee issued a strongly critical report of DFID failure to provide sufficient funding for refugees. DFID has increased funding since then, but not nearly by enough, despite stating that victims of conflict are a priority area for funding.
In the last Parliamentary session more than 60 MPs signed an Early Day Motion calling for funding to the Thailand Burma Border Consortium to be significantly increased. Overall, refugees are facing a funding shortfall of around 5-10 million dollars.

“Aung San Suu Kyi has delivered a clear message that she wants to see funding for refugees increased,” said Mark Farmaner, Director of Burma Campaign UK. “Andrew Mitchell, a long-time supporter of Aung San Suu Kyi, should now respond positively to her request and significantly increase funding.”

Background notes:

Details on refugees in Thailand are available at http://www.tbbc.org

Extract from Hansard 27th February 2012:
Mr Ivan Lewis: To ask the Secretary of State for International Development whether his Department has approved support to the Thailand Burma Border Consortium to assist with financial problems caused by rising food prices, changing currency rates and the withdrawal of funding by the European Commission. [96938]

Mr Andrew Mitchell: Funding of our development programme has increased significantly under this Government. The Department for International Development (DFID) supports the Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) to provide food and shelter for the refugees in the camps and for internally displaced people (IDPs) inside Burma with funding of around £1.1 million per year for the last three years. DFID is currently reviewing our overall programme of support to IDPs and refugees along the Thai/Burma border, including funding for the TBBC. The results of the review, our assessment of the level of need and the impact of rising food prices, exchange rate fluctuation and contributions from other donors will inform my decision over future funding. DFID remains fully committed to providing humanitarian aid to Burmese refugees in Thailand and people affected by conflict in eastern Burma, and encourages the European Commission and other donors to maintain their support.


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