David Robinson, the US principal deputy assistant secretary of state in the Bureau of Population, Refugees and Migration, visited the Mae Lae refugee camp on Friday to announce plans to discontinue the US resettlement program for refugees from Burma within the next 120 days.
Robinson said the reason for the move was that the US had reached its quota of refugees from Burma.
Saw Eh Kler, the secretary 1 of the Mae La camp, said after meeting with the ambassador that refugees holding UN registration cards can still apply for resettlement to the US for the next 120 days, starting from today.
Mae La is home to more than 40,000 refugees, and is the largest of nine camps on Thai-Burmese border, which house a total of around 140,000 refugees displaced by decades of conflict in Burma.
Robinson will travel to other camps along the border over the next few days to make the announcement about the end of the US resettlement program, which began in 2005.
The US is one of several countries participating in the program, which according to the Thai-Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) has so far resettled 70,000 refugees to the US, Canada, Australia and several European countries.
According to the TBBC, which has coordinated support for the camps for more than two decades, more than half of the resettled refugees have moved to the US. The other participating countries are expected to continue accepting new applicants for the program.
Although Robinson did not not cite political changes inside Burma, including recent ceasefires reached with ethnic armed groups based along the border, in the decision to discontinue US involvement in the program, some refugees said they suspected that this played a part in the move.
Saw Htun Htun, who once chaired a committee overseeing the Mae La refugee camp, said that if that really was the reason for ending the program, it reflected a poor understanding of the current situation.
“No matter how much the international community praises Burma, the rulers are still mostly people who served in the former military government. So I don’t think they will hand over power easily to a genuine civilian government,” he said.
“I think the peace process in Burma will take a very long time. That’s why, for the sake of my family’s future, I decided to resettle in a third country,” he added.