Handicap International is providing rehabilitation services for people with disabilities living in refugee camps and neighboring host villages along the border with Myanmar. It is also making sure that people with disabilities have access to camp services and that people are aware of the dangers posed by landmines in the border areas. The organization employs roughly 90 camp residents, 30 Thai nationals, and two expatriates.
Since the later part of the 20th century Thailand has hosted countless refugees fleeing violence and political oppression in neighboring countries. Handicap International was founded in in Thailand in 1982, to help refugees living in camps along the Cambodian borders. Since 1984, Handicap International has operated along the border with Myanmar to meet the needs of refugees. There are currently estimated to be more than 111,000 Burmese refugees in Thailand. Due to political changes in Myanmar the populations of these camps has been declining steadily since 2011, but huge numbers of landmines on the Thai-Myanmar border present a serious obstacle to repatriation.
Handicap International has established workshops in five refugee camps along the Myanmar border to manufacture and repair prosthetic devices (specifically lower-limb prostheses), other assistive devices like crutches, and specialized seating to meet the needs of the more than 150,000 camp residents. This service is complemented with physical therapy for victims of landmines, to children with cerebral palsy, and to adults who have suffered a stroke. The organization also provides a special service for children with developmental delays. The activities benefit camp residents, landmines survivors who cross the border to seek Handicap International services in camps, and Thai citizens living in neighboring villages along the camps.
The organization works with agencies in the camps to make sure that people with disabilities have full access to work, education, and health services. This is achieved by supporting agencies to remove physical and attitudinal barriers, which prevent access. The project also empowers people with disabilities through self-help groups to enable them to participate more actively in camp decision-making processes.
Mine risk education
The presence of landmines around the Myanmar border remains one of the obstacles to achieving a voluntary and sustainable repatriation in safety and dignity. Mine clearance is a long term goal but in the short term, Handicap International is ensuring that camp residents have the knowledge to manage and mitigate the risks they will face. The organization has also developed a database of landmine victims to provide better information to people crossing the Thai-Myanmar border.
Since 2016 and for a period of four years, Handicap International is 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.