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04/27/2012 Burma (DVB) – Up to 5,000 Burmese children living at the Thai border face malnourishment, as the international donor community withdraws funds and shifts its attention back to Burma.

As many as 2,000 children are experiencing stunted growth and nearly 1,000 are acutely malnourished, said Andrew Scadding, director of the Thai Children’s Trust, during an interview with DVB.

The UK-based NGO has provided food aid through local schools since 2010, but their money is running out. Global aid budgets are down and donors are redirecting much of their remaining funds into Burma’s emerging market.

“The number of agencies working on the border is falling as some agencies pull out completely and others move into Burma, which is basically sexier in PR terms and where the western governments are focusing aid,” said Scadding.

The Mae Tao clinic in Mae Sot, which treats Burmese refugees and migrants, confirmed that they see about two children each week suffering from malnutrition so advanced that they require medical treatment. They have recently lost nearly half their budget.

I think there is a feeling, especially in the European Union, that the problems in Burma are over.

Burmese authorities have already begun to explore the possibility of sending refugees home, recently sending a delegation to discuss resettlement possibilities in Karen state. But humanitarian groups insist that it is too early to encourage repatriation, possibly for another five years.

The Karen National Union signed a preliminary ceasefire with the Burmese government in January, and held union-level peace talks earlier this month. Although there is tentative optimism about the future, sporadic clashes and rights abuses are still being reported.

“We can only go back when there is peace and no more fighting in the border regions. We will only start planning repatriation when we believe there is a possibility of achieving genuine reconciliation,” said Saw Htun Htun, director of Mae La refugee camp.

Even if refugees are able to return, it will need to sustain its funding. For years, Burmese residents have been crossing the border to access healthcare at the clinic, and this is not likely to change anytime soon. The World Health Organization (WHO) still ranks Burma’s health sector 190 out of 191 countries.

“Most of our inpatients are from Burma, who come for medical services they can’t access at home,” explains Dr Maung. “They often don’t have friends nearby so we provide them with food and accommodation.”

According to TBBC as many as 150,000 refugees live along the Thai border. About 30,000 of them are children.

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