Thailand’s Prime Minister, General Prayut Chan-o-cha was reported as saying that Burma’s government refugees needed more time to put in place a process to repatriate its refugees.
General Prayut was quoted by The Bangkok Post and before the three-day visit of Aung San Suu Kyi’s, the head of Burma’s National League for Democracy government.
General Prayut said discussions between Thailand and Burma over refugee issues dated back to Burma’s military backed government. General Prayut, as quoted in The Bangkok Post, said.
“Myanmar [Burma] is willing to take back the refugees [from Thailand] but we have to give them more time to prepare for such considerations as securing land to accommodate those who return.”
General Prayut was reported to have said that “Thailand will continue to take care of the refugees on humanitarian grounds although this will inevitably result in an increased burden on the country.”
Mr. Iain Hall, the senior field coordinator for the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees based in the Thai border town of Mae Sot in a previous interview with Karen News said.
“The country of origin, in this case Myanmar [Burma], has the primary, responsibility of the protection of its citizens and indeed all civilians on its territory. They [Myanmar Government] hold a responsibility … the primary responsibility. So ensuring the conditions for sustainable return will be the Myanmar Government. But of course they may need support.”
Naw Blooming Night Zan, a spokeperson for the Karen Refugee Committee told Karen News that repatriation is not on the new NLD government’s agenda.
“The government has had their 100-day campaign, but the refugee issue is not in the discussions. When she [Suu Kyi] comes Thailand, even though we can’t meet her, we want her to create the conditions where we can go back.”
Naw Blooming Night Zan told Karen News that refugees need reassurances about their safety and living conditions before repatriation can begin.
“We should go back in dignity, with a condition that our safety is guaranteed, free from human right abuses and provided with humanitarian aid that we would need to start our lives again. The most important thing is that we should not be forced to go back.”
Saw Luis, secretary of the Karenni Refugee Committee said that it is important Aung San Suu Kyi gives the right message to the Thai government and to the United Nation High Commission for Refugee.
“Our refugee situation is related to the progress of political development in Burma, so, there should be guaranteed for our safety before we can return and the government needs to be prepared and ready before any return can take place.”
Saw Luis called on Aung San Suu Kyi to listen to the refugees concerns and “to pass this message to her own government, UNHCR and the Thai government.”
The Karen Women’s Organization in a statement released this week to commemorate World Refugee Day said that refugees living along the Thai Burma border are caught in a hard place and see cuts by international donors and talk of repatriation by UN agencies as putting pressure on refugees.
“We feel it is still very premature for a safe and dignified refugee return. We see on a daily basis, refugees receiving less food rations, and significant cuts to the already very basic health and education services. We imagine if this continues then life in camps will no longer be sustainable.”
The KWO pointed out that despite plans and preparation to repatriate refugees has been ongoing for years, the voices of community-based organizations and refugees are ignored.
“Our voice is not heard and our concerns are not addressed. Decisions are made about us, without us. Many NGOs and UN agencies have done very little really to prepare refugees to go back or to help build the services and communities that we will return to.”
The Border Consortium estimates that there as many as 120,000 refugees from Burma living in the nine camp along the border – Nu Po, Umphiem, Mae La, Mae Ra Ma Luang, Mae La On, Tham Hin, Ban Don Yang, Ban Mai Nai Soi and Ban Mae Surin which is also known as Karenni camp 1 and 2.