The birthplace of Handicap International, Thailand hosts large numbers of refugees from Myanmar. The organisation works in the refugee camps, providing artificial limbs for the victims of anti-personnel landmines and raising awareness of the dangers posed by these weapons, promoting the inclusion of vulnerable people and people with disabilities in their communities and improving the living conditions of children in refugee camps.
© Erika Pineros / Handicap International
Handicap International was set up in Thailand in 1982 by two French doctors. It started out trying to help the refugees living in camps set up along the border with Cambodia, offering orthopaedic fitting to people with disabilities or those who had lost limbs as a result of landmine accidents. By 1984, Handicap International was also helping refugees from Myanmar (Burma), and soon Thailand, who had also fallen victim to anti-personnel landmines. These activities in the country led to the opening of fifteen orthopaedic fitting workshops, which now form part of Thailand’s network of provincial hospitals.
In 1996, the organisation focused its action on nine Burmese refugee camps and on the neighbouring Thai villages. It enhances the self-reliance of people with disabilities by supplying locally-produced prostheses and adapted devices (orthoses, crutches, walkers, special seats, etc.). Physiotherapy is offered to victims of landmines, to children with cerebral palsy, and to adults who have suffered a stroke. Handicap International continues to pursue these actions in five of the nine camps for Burmese refugees in Thailand.
Pending the clearance of landmines from the border areas between Myanmar (Burma) and Thailand, Handicap International is raising refugees’ awareness of the dangers posed by landmines and other explosive remnants of war. These awareness-raising actions should reduce the risks they face when they return to Burma in the future.
Since 2016 and for a period of four years, the organisation is also implementing the Growing Together project, supported by IKEA Foundation, which aims to develop accessible and secure play areas for children in refugee camps in Thailand, Bangladesh and Pakistan. This project will enable 13,000 children with and without disabilities to play, learn and grow up together in a secure and inclusive environment.
The organisation also runs a social inclusion project for Burmese refugees with disabilities, improving their access to the various services on offer in the camps. As a result, people with disabilities now have access to education, professional training and primary health care.
There are more than 109,000 Burmese refugees living in Thailand. The situation in Myanmar (Burma) is now relatively stable making it possible for them to think about returning home, but the route back is littered with vast numbers of anti-personnel mines.
Thailand is one of the main countries hosting asylum-seekers and refugees from Myanmar (Burma). Since 1984, the country has seen an influx of populations fleeing political violence in Myanmar and, more recently, of economic migrants. However, the situation in Myanmar has evolved since 2011, mainly thanks to political changes in the country, and the number of refugees living in the camps has been declining steadily. Even so, their number is still estimated at more than 109,000. Living conditions are extremely precarious in the nine camps set up along the Myanmar/Thailand border, where Handicap International works, especially for people with disabilities. Refugees are heavily reliant on the humanitarian aid provided by international NGOs and local organisations.
Myanmar is beginning to open up, but the border region is still blighted by the presence of innumerable landmines. These weapons constitute a major obstacle to the refugees returning to their country of origin on a voluntary and permanent basis.
 Number of refugees on the Myanmar/Thailand border, according to The Border Consortium (TBC).