Burmese Migrants Rely on NGOs for Care and Supplies

Leila Darabi

Adolescent refugees from Burma living in Thailand rely on community-based organizations, pamphlets and posters for sexual and reproductive health information and supplies like condoms.

An estimated two million Burmese
refugees have fled conflict zones in Burma to live as undocumented migrants
in Thailand. This population has few options when it comes to seeking
information about even basic anatomy, let alone health care. With migrant
schools that end after the first or second grade, virtually no internet
access, low levels of literacy and limited to access to television – which,
even if available, is broadcast in Thai, not Burmese – community-based
organizations play a large role in providing reproductive health information
and services.  

A new
this week by the Thailand-based Adolescent
Reproductive Health Network (ARHN)

reveals that the country’s birth spacing and family planning program
is not reaching young migrants. Instead, adolescent refugees from Burma
living in Thailand rely disproportionately on community-based organizations,
pamphlets and posters for sexual and reproductive health information
and supplies like condoms.  

ARHN’s "Protecting Our Future" report presents findings from a
survey of nearly 400 12-24 year olds living in and around UN refugee
camps on the Thai side of the border. The data were collected by local
Burmese migrant activists also living undocumented in Thailand and shed
light on a population about which previously very little was known.
Around the world, little research exists on the sexual and reproductive
health needs of young people living in areas of conflict.  

Not surprisingly, the study
found that knowledge of sexual health and anatomy is very low among
adolescents from Burma’s conflict zones. Most young people had heard
of condoms and birth control pills, but few had ever used them. The
authors estimate the prevalence of sexually transmitted infections (STI)
among young people to be seven percent and found high levels of acceptance
of gender based violence and male authority over women’s reproductive
choices among both men and women interviewed.  

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In communities where ARHN,
a network of nine community-based organizations (CBO’s) works, the
study found that a majority of teens got information about sex and reproductive
health from trainings by CBO’s in migrant schools or factories; or
from pamphlets and posters prepared and distributed by the network.  

These results suggest the work
of the network is having major impact in areas with virtually no other
reproductive health services. Donors interested in meeting the needs
of vulnerable populations should invest in low-cost interventions such
as the network’s community education programs, the authors suggest.
Since contraception is subsidized nationally by the Thai government,
ARHN is able to provide an individual with a month’s supply of birth
control pills for just $2-3 US dollars.  

In order to raise awareness
of the migrant populations of the Thai-Burma border, a group of international
photographers have put together a
photo book and exhibition on the ongoing civil war in Burma and its

Sponsored by Burma Borders Projects, the Global Justice Center, Ibis
Reproductive Health and the Women’s Refugee Commission, "Invisible
Lives" features photographs by Tom Soddart, Morgan Hagar, Becky
Hurwitz, and amateur Burmese and Karen photographers.  

These images will be on display
from June 16-29 at powerHouse Books in DUMBO and proceeds from the book
sale will benefit ARHN. The show opens today, June 18th with a reception open
to the public

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