Thai Interior Minister cools refugee repatriation talk

Senior Thai officials, including the Minister of Interior, visited Mae La refugee camp in Tha Song Yang district of Tak Province to assess the situation of refugees on Thursday, January 13.

Thailand’s Interior Minister, Jarupong Ruangsuwan, together with the Tak Governor and Tha Song Yang district officials made a short visit to Mae La refugee camp and met with the camp committee, officials from the Thailand Burma Border Consortium and other Non Governmental Organizations at the Mae La camp’s hospital. The Minister and his group later visited patients at the hospital run by Aid Medicale Internationale.

Saw Honest, the joint secretary of the Mae La camp committee, said the Thai Interior Minister told people at the meeting that unless the political situation in Burma is stable, it would be impossible to send back refugees. The Minister urged the NGOs working in the camps to continue supporting the refugees.

Saw Honest told Karen News.

“They [Thai officials] said that they know it will need more time before refugees can be sent back. They [Thai officials] came here to learn what the positions of both the UNHCR and the TBBC. They [Thai officials] said they didn’t come to collect a list for refugee repatriation. They [Thai officials] want the refugees to learn and gain livelihood skills while living here.”

The Thai Interior Minister was reported as saying that even though they [Thai officials] have met with representatives from the Karen National Union and the Burma government regarding refugee repatriation it was only the first step.

Saw Honest said that the Interior Minister explained that in order to send back refugees in camps along the Thai Burma border, the Burma government needed to have a systematic plan in place and it could only be considered after the political situation improves to the stage where everyone can trust the situation.

Saw Honest said.

“He [Interior Minister] told us that he believes if there is no fighting and if there is a genuine peace in Burma, refugees won’t need to be repatriated, they would go back on their own will.”

Among the seven refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border, Mae La refugee camp is the largest, established in 1984, it is home to more than 53,000 refugees from Burma.

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