The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today it is working with the Thai Government to help meet the needs of some 2,000 Karen villagers who fled Myanmar in early June.UNHCR staff have now verified the number of recent arrivals after visiting five sites in northern Thailand where Karen villagers are taking shelter.“Although we cannot absolutely say this is the total number who have crossed the Moei River to Thailand in this period, we have not seen evidence of significantly higher numbers,” UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler told reporters in Geneva.He said that by and large, the Karen villagers say they fled in fear of conscription by armed forces or of forced labour as porters for armed forces. “Those who mentioned military action mostly said they fled in anticipation of fighting as the Myanmar army and their allies, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, approached rebel Karen National Union bases and villages.“Only a few said their villages had actually been shelled, but while our staff interviewed the recent arrivals on the Thai side of the border on Tuesday and Thursday, they heard shelling on the Myanmar side,” he added.According to UNHCR, Thai authorities have responded “quickly and sympathetically” to the needs of the new arrivals. The agency is working with the Government and non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to meet the needs of the Karen villagers, who are taking shelter mostly in temples, in a communal hall and in private Thai homes in four villages. A large group at a fifth place called Mae Usu who were reported to be sheltering in a cave are actually in a large field that was once the site of a refugee camp many years ago, Mr. Spindler noted. “This group, estimated at between 700 and 900 people, is living in seasonal agricultural houses that farmers use when they are harvesting crops, but which are normally empty at this time of year.” UNHCR said that the new arrivals at this location have some possessions they brought with them, and also have received rice, blankets and other relief items from the Thai-Burma Border Consortium, a NGO that has been serving Karen refugees along the border since the 1980s.“Although some of the Karen villagers, who are mostly farmers, managed to bring some possessions with them, others said they fled with only the clothes on their back,” said Mr. Spindler. Among the most urgently needed items are clothes, especially baby clothes, as well as soap, and bamboo pallets to keep from having to sleep in the mud amid heavy rains. UNHCR has already distributed 200 plastic sheets to help with emergency shelter. 12 June 2009The United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) said today it is working with the Thai Government to help meet the needs of some 2,000 Karen villagers who fled Myanmar in early June.