Who we are
H4FA, previously known as Projects to Support Refugees from Burma, does what it says; for the last 18 years backing and seeing through projects from school-building to self-help weaving groups among refugees from Burma. You can read our latest report from January 2014, here.
On this website we highlight the three main projects we support. Additionally H4FA makes generous annual donations to the following; a home for landmine victims, impoverished primary school teachers in Karenni State and sponsorship for individual adult students. We also make one off payments in emergency situations.
Mae La Camp
Based in Cambridge and registered as a UK charity, H4FA is deliberately small-scale and practical, making sure every penny you donate is spent directly on those we are helping. In 2013 our income was £43,661, over 25% higher than in 2012. (See Charity Commission website for details). All H4FA expenses are covered privately.
Our work has been focussed on the 120,000 refugees, mainly from the Karen and Karenni ethnic groups, living in the nine overcrowded camps strung out along the Thai-Burma border. These sprawling green prisons have been in effect human warehouses. Anxious not to encourage any more refugees, the Thai government has always refused to recognise them as such under the UN convention. So they were merely “displaced persons”, with none of the rights of refugees proper. Some refugees in their 30s have never lived anywhere but a camp.
We discovered that among the refugee population, and scattered throughout the Karen areas, 2nd WW veterans or their widows were enduring the hardships of the world’s longest running civil war. Those in the camps survive with remarkable cheerfulness in great old age on the meagre camp rations. They have no pensions or recognition for the famous battles they fought side by side with the allies against the Japanese in WW2. After a life time fighting for freedom they are trapped in the camps.
In 2006 “Help 4 Forgotten Allies” was born as a PSRB project, it is fast becoming our main work and the new name of the charity reflects this in 2015. Our aim is to make sure the veterans receive annual grant money to bring a little comfort in their last years, and the recognition they rightly deserve. H4FA has received strong support, and this year has expanded its work to veterans and widows within Burma/Myanmar; taking on an extra 305 individuals. See our Projects link "Help for WWW2 Veterans" for details.
Many people are puzzled about how and why the refugees came to be living in the camps and what the conflict that brought them there was about. In brief: most of the refugees on the Thai Burma border come from the Karen ethnic group, and the smaller, related Karenni people. Both were the subject of a merciless campaign, by the majority Burmans. Often called the “father to son war”, its origins lay in the Second World War. The Karen, Burma’s second-largest ethnic minority, sided with Britain and its allies against Japan, which at the time presented itself as a liberator from Britain’s colonial oppression. The Karen were subsequently persecuted for what was seen by the Burmans as a betrayal. Burma's army is dominated by ethnic Burmans, and human rights abuses of unimaginable cruelty were inflicted on civilians to try to break their support for the Karen ethnic army. The Burma army routinely burnt down villages (over 3,000), and forced their occupants - sometimes children as young as six - to do forced labour. Livestock and crops were confiscated or destroyed, and the fields mined. Villagers who had not escaped into the jungles - about 1m, lived hand-to-mouth as “internally displaced persons” - or across the border, were forced to accept a bleak, state-controlled existence in "relocation centres" without rights or land.
These conditions have improved over the last three years under a quasi democratic government. Great progress in the transition from a military dictatorship to a democratic state has been made. “The Lady,” Aung San Suu Kyi, for so long under house arrest, is now a prominent player on the political scene. Few political prisoners remain in jail, there is greater press freedom and most of the economic international sanctions against Burma have been lifted. Multitudes of foreign businesses are exploring investment opportunities and aid agencies are rapidly scaling up their programmes inside Burma.
In the ethnic nationalities states where 40% of the population live however, people remain cautious and await the results of the 2015 elections. Their hope is for a nationwide ceasefire, changes in the constitution and a settling of land ownership disputes which would ensure their basic rights were respected. They would like their languages and culture to be taught in schools within their areas.
Although the Karen signed a ceasefire with the Burma Army in January 2012, the clearance of landmines and Burma Army troop withdrawals are still being negotiated. Basic education and health services will need to be put in place in their homelands.These developments could transform the dream of returning home into reality for the camp inmates.
Despite months of political negotiations a nationwide ceasefire still remains out of reach, and indeed sporadic fighting between the Burma Army and ethnic nationality armies in Kachin, Shan, and Karen states continues. Whether the government can achieve this ceasefire and indeed claim control of the army before the 2015 elections, remains an important issue.
The Border Consortium, (www.theborderconsortium.org) of non-governmental organisations which provides food rations to the refugee population have prepared for the new phase of their work; “ All of TBC's activities are now being reviewed with return and reintegration in mind. … But for now there is still a job to be done; ensuring that the needs of refugees are met whilst at the same time preparing for the future.” Meanwhile most aid has now shifted to Myanmar/Burma itself and funding for the refugees has been drying up; the The Border Consortium has consequently been forced to reduce rations in the camps. Recently refugees fleeing renewed fighting in Karen State have been denied entry to Thailand.
H4FA plans to continue to support the refugees and help in practical ways to ensure their safe return to their homeland and to stand with the veterans and widows for the time they have left. It will be good to see how the skills that have been learnt with our support, while in the camps, are used to rebuild back home. There has been an intense emphasis on education and preparation during this period in the camps with just this end in view. Now it will be the huge satisfaction to seeing their dreams come true, and we hope that the process will continue satisfactorily, with Burma army withdrawals and clear political agreements. H4FA is proud to have played a part in this and thanks donors who have made it possible.
H4FA is not and cannot aspire to be political. Our aim is limited to bringing relief to people who are suffering.