Nearly 200 Burmese Refugees To Be Repatriated From Thailand

By Tin Htet Paing 30 June 2016

RANGOON — The Burmese government plans to repatriate 196 Burmese nationals displaced by conflict from refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border, according to Burma’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs.  The two countries agreed to cooperate on refugee returns during the visit of Burma’s State Counselor/Foreign Minister Aung San Suu Kyi to Thailand last week.

The statement released by the ministry on Wednesday said the two governments will start working on repatriation and rehabilitation for the Burmese refugees in Thailand through both short- and long-term plans—creating job and educational opportunities and providing health and social services in their places of origin.

“The government will send a delegation group [to Thailand] to work on the citizenship verification process for the 196 displaced individuals who expressed their desire to be sent back to their original homes,” the statement read.

The statement did not include a timeline or start date for the process.

The ministry told The Irrawaddy on Thursday that citizenship verification would be handled by the Ministry of Labor, Immigration and Population, adding that the whole process of repatriation may take some time.

Director-General of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs Kyaw Zeya said his ministry had received information on the 196 refugees through the United Nation’s refugee agency, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), before the State Counselor’s visit. He said that 75 percent of the returnees-to-be are ethnic Karen.

“We also have informed our Thai counterparts of our plan,” Kyaw Zeya said. “All we need from their side is understanding and patience in dealing with this refugee repatriation issue.”

According to The Border Consortium (TBC)—which provides food, shelter and other forms of support to Burmese refugees—there are roughly 120,000 refugees from Burma in nine official camps and shelters on the Thai-Burma border, some of whom have resided there for over two decades due to the armed conflicts between the Burma Army and ethnic armed groups.

Talks between Thailand and Burma on refugee issues began during the previous administration of President Thein Sein and accelerated after the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) was signed by eight ethnic armed groups—including two ethnic Karen groups—in October last year.

According to a report in the Bangkok Post, Thai Prime Minister Prayuth Chan-ocha said during Suu Kyi’s three-day visit to Thailand last week that Burma should be given more time to prepare for the safe, voluntary and dignified return of its refugees.

The former head of the Royal Thai Army added that, in the meantime, Thailand would continue to take care of the refugees in accordance with humanitarian standards, even though drawing out the process would result in an increased burden on Thailand.

According to the UNHCR’s report released last week, Burma had more than 450,000 displaced people as of the end of 2015, and its nationals made up the eighth largest group of refugees in the world.