Now Is Not The Time For Refugee Returns

The Karen refugees in Thailand could be facing a new situation before we even know of it!

Over the past years foreign donors and NGOs have chosen to abandon the border area and direct their support and aid through Rangoon via government-controlled agencies.

The thinking is that when they have chosen to “engage” with President Thein Sein´s government they agree to work in the way the government directs them to.

The result is, food supplies are cut in the refugee camps from 15kg of rice a month and down to as low as 7 kilos.

Healthcare and education for refugees have suffered funding cuts in the camps as well. Desperation has hit many refugees in the camps as they now try – in a more dangerous way – to go outside collecting firewood or gathering food for their family’s survival.

The large number of fires in the camps recently have made many people fear, proven or unproven, that these were not accidents, this has led to additional stress.

This situation is not sustainable. And it could very well mean that some refugees – have prematurely –started to return to Karen State.

This is a dangerous situation because Karen State is not ready to receive refugees. We lack farmland and settlements for this huge amount of people.

We still have a large number of unexploded land mines making any travel dangerous. Our people in the refugee camps will have no chance to navigate through these mine fields – and no chance to build up a livelihood surrounded by such dangers.

Secondly, what would our refugees come home to now?

We have many unsolved situations where villagers land has been stolen by the Tatmadaw [Burma Army] and given to other users.

Unfortunately, this is common – our leaders need to find a solution with the Thein Sein Government so people can get there stolen land returned – we don’t want our people to end up like the Palestinians – forced out by settlers.

We have huge task ahead of us to explain to the Thein Sein government that land grabbing in Karen State must stop, and be reversed, if sustainable peace is wanted.

We will argue for this, even if we have to die for it.

As long as the Thein Sein government sees Karen soil as its golden opportunity to enrich itself – we have a problem.

We have seen low scale attacks by the Tatmadaw [Burma Army] in in the KNU Brigade 5 area. Such actions are counterproductive and will in no way build trust between the Karen and the Tatmadaw. Our people, including refugees, have heard of these attacks, and it only adds to their fears of returning to Karen State.

I call for our leaders to be vocal about all of the problems listed above. We need a lot of support from everywhere to create a sustainable solution for our people.

We need large public information forums, workshops throughout the Karen state that involve and our people are listened to.

We need finance in order to build up villages with a good solid infrastructure.

The Karen people returning to villages need to be able to live a sustainable life and in peace. Education and health infrastructure needs to be funded. We do not see INGOs or the government ready to support such work.

In the meantime we need to raise our voices and warn against what could easily lead to forced repatriation that will only end in misery for refugees and the displaced.

*General Ner Dah Mya is the head of the Karen National Defence Organization and the son of the late General Bo Mya, who founded the Karen national Liberation Army and was its commander in-chief until 2000.

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