Women IDPs and refugees continue to face challenges to livelihood
June 6, 2012
HURFOM: Women’s livelihoods in resettlement areas remain insecure due to shortages of food and employment. Although female internally displaced people (IDPs) and refugees face demanding environments in their respective camps, most of them do not want to go back to Burma. They worry that they will not have a place to live and do not trust the government to assume responsibility to help them resettle.
In Halokhani, a camp for Mon IDPs in the New Mon State Party (NMSP) controlled area along the Thai-Burma border, women work hard to generate income but often do not make enough to feed their children. There are three IDP resettlement sites inside the NMSP area of Mon State: Halokhani, Bee Ree, and Tavoy resettlement sites, and many IDPs have lived in these sites since 1995 when they were displaced by conflict. Even after ceasefire agreements were signed, IDPs often had no home to return to, or feared leaving and being displaced again.
One 40-year-old woman in Halokhani camp said, “The support from donors is not enough to feed my family. I divorced my husband over two years ago and I need to care for and feed my children, who attend school while I try to find work. In [the camp] many people work on the farm, but farm owners do not hire female laborers because they think women cannot work as hard as a man. The male workers get paid 150 Baht per day, and women should be able to work the same job for the same salary. It is very difficult for women who do not have a husband to get a job on the farm. If we could just get sufficient rice, I think we would not face such difficulties.”
She added that, to generate income, some women are given vegetables in nearby Blehdoonphite village to sell in Halokhani resettlement site. They use the earnings to pay the vegetable farmers back and can keep whatever money is left. Many women work hard but still only have enough money for food with nothing extra. Some families would like their children to attend school, but when the children reach3rd or 4th grades, they must migrate to Thailand to work and send money home.
A few IDPs rely on their own local businesses for income, but most have no money or relatives and depend on donated food that amounts to two meals, mainly of rice, each day. These IDPs are at the mercy of sporadic income from seasonal work—cutting bamboo shoots, working in orchards or rubber plantations, and cutting long grass to make brooms.
One prominent donor in the region supplies IDPs with rice three months out of the year, but previously provided rice year-round. Cuts in provisions as part of a reduction in funding to IDPs has compounded an already unstable situation.
Refugees face similar challenges to IDPs in relation to food and livelihood security. Women refugees from Umphiem Camp in Mae Sot, home to almost 16,000 refugees including Mon, Karen, Palaung, Kachin, Chin, Shan, and some ethnically Indian people, report that they are not adequately supported by the donor, and have also experienced reduced provisions. Donors who once provided 13 kilos of rice and one liter of oil to each adult (children receiving half the ration size of adults) now supply 12 kilos of rice and 0.5 liters of oil.
One woman who has lived in Umphiem camp for five years said, “I would like to be relocated to a “third country” because life is so difficult here and I worry about my children’s education and future. Jobs are not available and most people have to seek income outside the camps. Women find work picking chilies or cutting grass to earn around80 Baht per day. During rainy season, the situation becomes more difficult as women fear for their safety while travelling outside the camp. Some children cannot attend school because they care for younger sisters or brothers while the parents are away working.”