Chiang Mai steps up to support neighbours in need

Refugees and IDPs from Myanmar receive support from Chiang Mai community based organizations, Thai Freedom House and Metta Charity

By | Fri 28 Jan 2022

You may have heard some buzz about what is happening on the Thai/Myanmar border recently and we would like to break it down a bit for you. It is a complicated situation, and many factors are at play.

What led to the current issues?

February 1st 2022 will mark one year since the Burmese Military Junta staged an attempted  coup, ousted the democratically elected National League for Democracy Government, and turned what was a burgeoning democracy on its head. The brutality of the Burmese Junta is intensifying daily. Hundreds of thousands of people have become IDPs (Internally Displaced Peoples) because of the brutal acts of violence being perpetrated by the Burmese Junta, following the February 2021 attempted coup. The junta is chaired by wanted criminal and terrorist, Min Aung Hlaing, the commander-in-chief of the Defense Services.

The Burmese military Junta has been arbitrarily arresting and detaining civilians for decades, alongside a barrage other human rights violations including forced displacement, sexual violence, arson, and murder. The junta has a long-standing campaign of blocking urgently needed humanitarian aid and medical care, as well as restricting water and food access, cutting off communications and internet, and targeting places of refuge with shelling and indiscriminate firing.  No one is safe in Myanmar…

IDPs carry donated food from Free Bird Cafe and Metta Charity, across the Moei River which forms the border between Thailand and Myanmar, Mae Sot, Tak Province, Thailand.


Despite calls from civil society organisations, volunteers and aid workers on the ground for assistance, there has not been any large-scale support from the international community or NGOs.  Citizens have filled the gaps in protection and material support and have done so with incredible bravery by standing up for themselves and their rights inside Myanmar. Even one year on, there are still daily protests across the country, flash protests, and creative social media protests. The people have not lost momentum and are calling for the Junta to step down, and for the National Unity Government to be recognised as the legitimate government in Myanmar.

Sunset over an informal IDP camp along the Moei River, this location is more isolated and doesn’t have as much access to aid. The people living here have fled from their homes and then from the shelter that was shelled by the Burmese Military.


The joint forces of the ethnic armed organisations and civilian resistance groups (People’s Defense Forces) are fighting to protect their communities in Burma’s respective states. The Civil Disobedience Movement was initiated by civil servants who quit their jobs in widespread rejection of the regime. These individuals are making change possible against unimaginable circumstances as they envision a more united Burma.

The Burmese diaspora is helping worldwide. Many people in our Chiang Mai community have contributed to fundraisers by local CBOs (Community Based Organisations) to support refugees, IDPs, those in exile, in hiding and still in Myanmar who are participating in the resistance movement.

A glimpse of the refugee camps established by Thai authorities in a cattle farm on the border with Myanmar in Mae Sot, Tak Province, Thailand.


How is the Chiang Mai community getting involved?

Locally established CBO, (since 2005) Thai Freedom House and Free Bird Cafe, (social enterprise restaurant and event venue) with their partner, Metta Charity, have been able to purchase, and distribute enormous amounts of drinking water, dry food goods, medicine, oil to run generators and other emergency essentials to families in need from this online fundraising event, since 17th Dec 2021. The Chiang Mai community also donated 15 truckloads so far of warm clothing, blankets, and cooking materials, which Free Bird Cafe sorts, packs and distributes to those most in need. They are providing up to 3,000 meals a day now in cooperation with a community volunteer kitchen in Mae Sot, made up of refugees themselves, cooking for newly arrived refugees and IDPs across the border. 100% of what is donated goes directly to the aid, nothing is taken for overhead of any kind as the volunteers all cover their own expenses.

A guide to understanding the different groups affected by the brutality under this Burmese Military Regime:

Rural ethnic people are innocent civilians who have not had access to formal education and largely live in isolated areas doing agricultural work. Their lives have been destroyed as they have been forced to flee their homes and abandon their livelihoods while villages burn to the ground. Impossible taxes have been levied against them as they are abducted for forced labour, and to be porters or human shields by the Burmese Junta. They face arbitrary arrests, sexual violence, torture, and enforced disappearance at the hands of the Junta. This is a deliberate tactic deployed by the junta in their attempt to control civilians through fear mongering tactics which are intended to discourage them from supporting their own resistance armies.

CDM (Civil Disobedience Movement) launched just days after the 1st Feb 2021 coup, is made up of civil servants and professionals in the public sector such as medical and health care workers, bankers, teachers, engineers, and those who work in transportation, all of whom refuse to work under the current Military Junta. They also boycott products and companies owned by the Military and its cronies. The health care workers have not abandoned the people but have gotten creative with running clinics with free medical care, and, in turn, the local populations help to support them.

PDF (People’s Defense Force) were formed 5th May 2021 to serve as the military wing of the NUG (National Unity government largely supported by the Myanmar people) with the aims of restoring democracy, and as a precursor to creating a Federal Union Army when the NUG is in power, and Junta is defeated. They are an armed resistance force that supports and protects the people.

IDPs (Internally Displaced People) are basically refugees that haven’t crossed a border These are people who have been forced to flee from their homes by airstrikes, arrests, torture, and murder  from the Burmese Junta. Many are huddled in camps around Myanmar, relying on support from other villagers that live nearby. In most cases, the ethnic armies are protecting them from the Junta. There are thousands along the Moei River in Mae Sot, Tak who are ‘camped’ on the Myanmar side where aid can be delivered to them by groups like Free Bird Cafe and Metta Charity, across the river. There are also many living in hiding along the river and receiving aid from community groups, unable or unwilling to cross into Thailand.

Refugees (people who have fled and crossed the international border to Thailand). These people are living in ‘formal’ and ‘informal’ camps along the border.  Access to these refugees has been severely restricted and large NGOs haven’t been allowed to assess or assist in the situation, so once again, support is coming only from small CBOs, like Free Bird Cafe and Metta Charity, along with others. Thousands have been kept in a cattle farm, in crowded conditions with little access to toilets, clean water and sanitation. They are so close to the border that the Burmese Military has been able to fire into the camps. Free Bird Cafe and Metta Charity are also supporting them with warm clothing, dry foods, medicine, oil for generators and drinking water.

What are the desired next steps in Myanmar?

The UN Security Council must impose a global arms embargo and targeted sanctions against the military leaders and involve the International Criminal Court to make sure that the terrorists are charged with war crimes, crimes against humanity ,and genocide. The ASEAN must put pressure on the Burmese Military to stop harming civilians and refuse to engage with the military junta.

The situation is ongoing and in constant flux. The needs of the people are great, and the resources of the small CBOs are becoming exhausted. This is truly a time of needed Mutual Aid support from our community. If you can help, please do. See above link for donation by PayPal or in the Facebook event here.

Read all about Lisa Nesser and her work at Free Bird Café here.

How you can contribute and follow the updates:
Follow ‘Free Bird Cafe’ on

Mohinga Matters Daily Updates and Newsletter:

Online event here:

Details for donations:
See the event above for other options or donate through PayPal here: