Authorities Urge Repatriation of Karen Refugees

By Saw Yan Naing 28 March 2017

Thai authorities and NGOs are registering ethnic Karen refugees in camps on the Thai-Burma border and preparing them for life in Burma, as a Thai military official announced that areas have been prepared for refugees in Karen State.

On March 23, Lt-Gen Vijak Siribansop of the Thai army told the Bangkok Post the Burmese government had prepared an area for about 70,000 refugees from Burma in their native Karen State as current peace talks with ethnic armed organizations looked promising.

“The return will focus on [refugees’] safety and dignity and ensure there will be no danger to them and they are treated well,” Lt-Gen Vijak Siribansop was quoted by the Bangkok Post as saying.

The International Organization for Migration (IOM) and the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) have built contact centers in refugee camps to facilitate arrangements for those who want to return home.

UNHCR will coordinate and fund the refugees’ return while the Thai government will act as a facilitator, according to the general.

Only a handful of refugee families have contacted the centers to return home, however, according to sources in the camps.

Just three families from Mae Ra Ma Luang returned home this month, according to Saw Tu Tu, an officer at community-based organization Karen Refugee Camp (KRC).

Saw Tu Tu told The Irrawaddy that Thailand’s Mae Fah Luang Foundation would provide training in agriculture for representatives of all refugee camps in the area.

“It is preparation for refugees when they go home one day,” said Saw Tu Tu.

Houses for returning refugees and internally displaced person (IDPs) have reportedly been built in Karen National Union (KNU)-controlled areas funded by Japanese charity the Nippon Foundation, according to camp sources.

The Nippon Foundation supports several projects in KNU-controlled areas in Hpa-an Township of Karen State and in Tenasserim Division.

Sources from the refugee camps said Thai authorities are planning to register residents in April and ask them whether they want to return home, resettle in a third country, or remain in the camps.

All refugees who are registered with the UNHCR in the nine refugee camps need to be present during this verification process, sources close to KRC told The Irrawaddy.

Funding of displaced persons in Ei Htu Hta camp on the Karen State border with Thailand’s Mae Hong Son Province will reportedly be cut by humanitarian agency The Border Consortium (TBC) by August this year.

“TBC couldn’t provide more assistance to [refugees in Ei Htu Hta] because they will have no more funding,” said Saw Tu Tu.

There are nine refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border hosting more than 120,000 refugees from Burma.