RANGOON — The first group of Burmese refugees sheltering in Thailand was repatriated by UNHCR, the United Nations’ refugee agency, and Thai authorities.
Dozens of refugees were voluntarily resettled in places including Myawaddy, Kawkareik, and Kyainseikgyi townships in Karen State, according to Karen State’s chief minister Nang Khin Htwe Myint.
Refugees being resettled in Karen State will cross the Myawaddy-Mae Sot Thai-Burma Friendship Bridge on Tuesday and Karen State government officials will be visiting them on Wednesday, she told the Irrawaddy.
Other refugees being resettled in Tenasserim Division will be sent through another border crossing.
“We will welcome them tomorrow,” said Nang Khin Htw Myint. “We heard that there are 58 refugees being sent through the Myawaddy-Mae Sot crossing.”
She added that most of them come from the Nu Po refugee camp and that the UNHCR had arranged their repatriation.
Iain Hall, a senior field coordinator at the UNHCR told Reuters that the returnees made their own decision to return home after family members in Burma provided information that it was safe to do so.
“The Myanmar government came over and issued certificates of identification saying these people are their citizens,” Hall told Reuters, adding that the repatriation is a “milestone.”
The move is the first official group repatriation from the more than 120,000 registered Burmese refugees living in Thailand for over 20 years. Most of the refugees, who fled home to escape civil war, are from ethnic Karen communities who faced persecution by the Burma Army.