RANGOON — Burmese refugees living in the camps along the Burma-Thailand border need to be repatriated if they want to be included in the national census, a senior official from the Ministry of Immigration and Population (MIP) told The Irrawaddy.
The MIP will make a list of children who were born in refugee camps as part of the next national census, Dr Khaing Khaing Soe, the personal assistant to the MIP minister, but the census will only include people who are resident in Burma.
“The census will only include people in Burma,” Khaing Khaing Soe said. “We won’t include those who are in other country’s territory in the list. We will, however, ask respective families whether they have anyone working abroad.”
She added that even though the MIP will not pay attention to those who have gone beyond the country’s borders, it will make a list of internally displaced persons (IDPs) inside Burma.
“Her statement is worrisome,” commented Saw El Kleh, the secretary of Mae La refugee camp in Thailand’s Tak Province.
“Children born in this camp are stateless so, in the future, who will provide them with education, health and social services that a citizen should receive?” he questioned, adding that there have been 70 to 80 newly born babies every month in Mae La, the biggest and most populated camp along the border.
According to The Border Consortium (TBC), there are currently seven Karen and two Karenni refugee camps in Mae Hong Son, Tak and Kanchanaburi provinces in Thailand. A total of 128,783 people are taking shelter in the camps, it said in a statement issued in December last year.
Apart from those refugee camps, the TBC said, there are seven IDP camps in Burma’s forests, which host another 17,079 people.
The TBC, which was formerly known as the Thai Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), has been providing Burmese refugees, who started fleeing to border areas in the 1980s, with basic food supplies, such as rice, beans, fish-paste and salt.
“We are wondering what President Thein Sein’s Government is thinking about its citizens currently living in refugee camps,” said Dr George, the vice-chairman of Karen Refugee Committee (KRC).
Aid organizations working for Burmese refugees have said that there are many difficulties for refugees to go back to their homes.
“The main concerns include landmines and ceasefire issues,” said an official from a Thai border-based relief agency, who asked to remain anonymous. “They are yet confident with the ceasefire situation, so they are worried about fresh clashes between the government and armed ethnic groups.
“Another critical issue for them is how they are going to survive when they get back to their place of origin. They still can’t return until the overall situation becomes stable,” he said.
The national census project, which would be the first since 1983, will be carried out in 2014.
The United Nations estimated Burma’s population in 2010-2011 as 53.4 million while the MIP said there were 59.8 million people living in the country.