Thai-Burma Border NGO Prepares for Refugee Return

By Saw Yan Naing 24 September 2013

RANGOON — The Border Consortium (TBC), an NGO on the Thai-Burma border, is focusing on preparations for the return to Burma of more than 120,00 refugees in Thailand amid reductions in cross-border funding.

In TBC’s latest report, published on Tuesday, executive director Sally Thompson said, “The Border Consortium continues to integrate the provision of humanitarian aid to conflict-affected people while prioritizing a focus on preparation for return.”

As the process of political reform and peace negotiations continue in Burma, TBC is embracing the prospect of refugees returning to their homeland, according to the report. With an invitation from the Burmese President’s Office, TBC has established an office in Rangoon to run its humanitarian operations.

“We have also created several new staff positions and added new members to our management team as we continue to reorient all of our programs toward preparation for return,” Thompson said in the report.

TBC has said it is necessary to ensure a safe return to the country, as clashes continue between the military and rebel armed groups in some ethnic areas. In its report, TBC said it agreed with the Burmese and Thai governments that conditions do not yet exist for the organized return of refugees.

“There is still much work to be done before refugees can be assured of voluntary, safe, dignified return. Nonetheless, we are all engaged in a period of transition,” said Thompson.

While the pace of change has slowed in Burma, it continues to build a sense of cautious optimism in the international and NGO communities. But the uncertainty of what lies ahead can heighten anxieties among conflict-affected communities, said TBC in the report.

Recently, TBC announced that it would reduce rice rations to some of the 120,000 refugees it supports as part of its humanitarian work. Rations for adult refugees deemed “self-reliant” will be reduced, as donors redirect funds to programs preparing for the return of refugees to Burma.

Mike Bruce, a spokesperson for TBC said, “Funding has been reduced to humanitarian aid as donors are starting to place more funding in programs that prepare the refugee community for return.”

TBC is a humanitarian organization that has provided humanitarian aid and other supplies to Burmese refugees on the Thai-Burma border, as well as to internally displaced persons (IDPs) in war-affected regions in eastern Burma, for almost 30 years.