UNHCR Meet With Karen Community Groups to Discuss Repatriation Concerns

Following a statement issued by the Karen Women Organization calling for Burma government and international community to respect the right of refugees on World Refugees’ Day, representatives of the United Nation High Commissioner for Refugees met with Karen community based organization on June 23, to discuss repatriation issues.

The meeting’s included presentation of the UNHCR’s roadmap on refugee repatriation and was followed by a question and answer session.

The UNHCR’s Senior Field Coordinator for Thailand, Mr. Iain Hall, representatives from Karen community based groups, including the Karen Women Organization, Karen Student Network Group, Karen Human Right Group and representatives from refugee community attended the meeting.

Naw Baw Nyaw, a KWO central committee member spoke to Karen News.

“It is important that the refugee repatriation process must have clear guarantees for refugees. What guarantee are there now in place if refugees are to be sent back? There will be social problems, such as discrimination against refugees in rural areas. The issue needs to be discussed thoroughly in order to help the process.”

Naw Baw Nyaw pointed out that there is danger of landmines, food security, healthcare, education and physical security for refugees if they are to return.

Naw Baw Nyaw said repatriation should not take place considering the lack of the necessary basic conditions being in place.

An earlier statement put out by KWO to mark World Refugees’ Day stated that the conditions that led “refugees to flee in the first place have yet to be resolved, as initial ceasefires have proven to be fragile and regularly breached. In ceasefire areas, an increased presence of Burma Army troops, in terms of both numbers of personnel and infrastructure, threaten the lives of those who continue to live in fear of conflict.”

The KWO statement also warned that “premature repatriation under the current conditions will lead to further suffering for refugees who have already experienced persecution and human rights abuses by the Burma Army.”

Naw Ma Tha Poe, a resident from Mae La refugee camp – the largest camp on the Thai-Burma border, spoke to Karen News about how refugees are caught between a lack of security in returning and a massive decrease in humanitarian aid to the camps on the Thai Burma border.

“With the current political situation, we can’t go back. While we are living in these camps, we will need donor support. If we don’t have support, how can we survive? We can’t leave the camp to work. If the situation back home is good enough for us, we don’t need to be sent back, we will go back on our own right away.”

After a preliminary ceasefire agreement reached between the Burma government and ethnic armed groups in 2012, talks about refugee return conversations among camps community.

According to UNHCR records as of March 2015, as many as 10,000 refugees returned to their places voluntarily.

Currently, the total population of the nine refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border is estimated at 110,000.

Over the last 30 years as many as 150, 000 people fled their homeland in Burma due to civil war, militarization, and other human right abuses to seek safety in Thailand.

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