Umphiem Mai Refugee camp (Photo: Karen News)

Senior Thai Official Puts Burma’s Refugee Repatriation Back on the Agenda – Refugees Concerned About Cuts To Rations and Essential Services

Refugees responded to a senior Tak Province official speaking about the repatriation of the more than 100,000 refugees from Burma living in camps along the Thai-Burmese border by claiming that withdrawal of support by international donors is their immediate concern.

Suttha Saivanid, the Tak Deputy-Governor said the Thai government had been in contact with Burma’s recently elected National League for Democracy government to set in place a process to start the repatriation of the refugees.

The Democratic Voice of Burma reported that the Mr. Suttha told reporters that the “governments of the two countries, together with the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR, are set to brainstorm a road map for the repatriation.”

The Tak Deputy-Governor told reporters that the process to repatriate the 100,000 people in nine refugee camps on the Thai Buirma border would begin within two to three years’ time. The Mae Sot meeting was attended by representatives of the UNHCR and Thai security officials from Umpium, Mae La and Nupo refugee camps.

A refugee from Umphien camp who asked not to be named told Karen News that the problem they have is not with the time frame to return voluntarily with dignity to their homeland. The refugee said that living dignity in the camp is now being undermined by the decreasing food rations and cuts to other vital services in the camp.

“You cannot afford to care for dignity if you don’t have enough to eat or feed your family. The issue is not about being repatriated in two or three years’ time. The critical issue is how will we survive the massive cuts to our rations, our health services and education while we wait to be repatriated? The important issue is how do we feed our families when donors are withdrawing their support? We are now being driven out by the donor cuts not the Thai government.”

A camp committee member from Umphiem camp said that the issue of repatriation is nothing new for them.

“It has always been the position and policy of Thai government to send us home when the conditions are right. The Thai government alone can’t start the whole repatriation process. When we are to be sent back home, the Burma government will also need to be involved and take responsibility for their part in the process. We are not hearing of any official statement about this.”

The camp committee member said that they have not been informed by the Thai authorities about this recent discussion about repatriation and that if it has started there should be official discussions among local Thai officials and the various camp committees if the process is to start taking place.

Naw Blooming Night Zan, a member of the Karen Refugee Committee said that no representative from KRC attended the recent meeting, but she had attended previous meetings where the Tak Deputy Governor also made his position clear about the return of refugees.

“In a meeting with our committee in the previous month, the deputy governor told us that right now there is no plan to send the refugees back. He told us that he agreed that the situation is not conducive to send refugees home. However, they said that they will not stop individuals who make their own decision to go back.”

Naw Blooming Night Zan said that KRC was told that the Thai government will not forcibly repatriate refugees as it is not their policy to do so. The Thai government has agreed in principle that repatriation should be according to international standards where refugee will return home voluntarily and with dignity.

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