Burmese Refugees Protest Slow UN Resettlement

By The Irrawaddy 26 April 2012

Around 100 Burmese refugees held a peaceful protest against their delayed resettlement in third-party countries in front of a local UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) branch office on Wednesday morning.

Many of the protesters at Nu Po camp in Thailand’s Umphang District, Tak Province, were Burmese while others were ethnic Karen political activists and war refugees. They have called on the UNHCR and Thai government to accelerate their resettlements in third-party countries.

Lu Hla, one of the leaders of the demonstration, said that many people felt anxious because the Thai authorities have not revealed the details of the resettlement process. “So we went to the UNHCR but they just tell us to please wait and be tolerant,” he said.

The demonstration took place for around half-an-hour with people holding banners asking the UNHCR to end unnecessary delays. Amongst the protesters were those with UNHCR refugee registration, some who hold temporary cards and others who have no official status, according to sources.

Kitty McKinsey, the regional spokesperson for the UNHCR in Asia, told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that only registered refugees are qualified to be resettled in third countries. She added that the resettlement program is not controlled by the UNHCR but the Thai authorities.

One refugee in Nu Po camp, who asked to remain anonymous, said that many protesters were newcomers whose partners have already been resettled in third countries, but were disqualified themselves due to their unregistered status.

“They are worried that they must return to Burma and may not be able to join their loved ones,” he said. “That is why they made the demonstration.”

UNHCR officials at the camp told protesters that they will give an answer to their demands next week. This is the second time refugees at the camp have demonstrated since 2010, but protestors say their cases are still being delayed.

Lu Hla has been at the camp for seven years. His wife has already been settled in the United States for four years but he was rejected. There are many people who have a similar story and want to see their divided families reunited.

“We are especially worried for our children,” he said. “There are many young people at the camp who cannot see a future due to a lack of education.”

Nu Po camp has more than 10,000 refugees, the majority of whom are Karens who have fled the prolonged ethnic conflict in eastern Burma.

While only refugees who have official registration documents qualify for resettlement in a third country, there are now many more unregistered arrivals at refugee camps, according to the Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC).

Since 2006, at least 70,000 Burmese refugees have been resettled in third countries, according to TBBC figures.

Meanwhile, Thai local authorities recently conducted an informal survey in three camps based along the Thai-Burmese border. The authorities selected around 100 people from each camp and asked them what they want to do in the future and where they want live.