Refugees Concerns Must be Address In Any Plans To Repatriate Them

A paper released last week by Burma Link and Burma Partnership claims the voices of refugees are ignored in Burma’s reforms. The joint paper, Voices of Refugees – Situation of Burma’s Refugees Along the Thailand-Burma Border, urges all the organisations responsible for refugees welfare to include them in the “planning and preparedness of their eventual return” to Burma.

The joint paper put out on April 27 said that refugees’ concerns include “the possibility of premature repatriation plans, ongoing armed conflict and displacement in Burma, steady decrease in funding in the camps coupled with recent enforced restriction on movement that are threatening their livelihood.”

The co-founder and program director of Burma Link, Ariana Zarleen said in a statement that, “in the light of the current fragile peace process and the unfavorable situation on the ground in Burma, any repatriation taking place under the current circumstance is likely to lead to involuntary return, either directly or indirectly through cutting off aid.”

The released statement explained that the “refugees’ voices of concern are based on real fears, as the ongoing conflict threatens peoples’ lives and the situation on the ground in Burma indicates increased militarization by Burma Army as human rights violations continue with impunity, while a fragile peace process threatens the sustainable return of refugees with dignity and in safety.”

The statement pointed out that more than “643,000 people remain internally displaced in Burma, some living in potential refugee return areas and the country’s so-called reform continues to backslide.”

Soe Aung, a spokesperson for Burma Partnership and the Foreign Affairs Secretary of Forum for Democracy in Burma said in the statement that, “if the concerns of the refugees are unaddressed and the preconditions for safe and dignified return are not ensured, the refugees will again be caught in a cycle of conflict and displacement after their return.”

Soe Aung said that “repatriation should be a refugee-led voluntary operation since they are the primary stakeholders, and not enforced by actions and factors determined by others. Meaningful and inclusive participation of refugees in the decision making of the return process is the key to their sustainable return, and refugees should be provided ample space and time to make their decision regarding their future.”

The joint briefing paper was launched and presented by Soe Aung at the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) Civil Society Conference/ASEAN Peoples’ Forum 2015 in Malaysia that took place in April 2015.

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