Thai PM Supports Delayed Burmese Refugee Return

By Wassana Nanuam 24 June 2016

Burma should be given more time to prepare to take back refugees, said Thailand’s Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha, a former commander-in-chief of the Royal Thai Army.

Speaking ahead of Burma’s State Counselor Aung San Suu Kyi’s three-day visit to Thailand, which began on Thursday, Gen Prayut said talks between Thailand and Burma over refugee matters began during the previous administration and the government believes that, when Burma is ready, it will take the refugees back.

“[Burma] is willing to take back the refugees but we have to give them more time to prepare for such considerations as securing land to accommodate those who return. We understand each other,” the Thai prime minister said.

There are currently about 100,000 Burmese refugees in nine camps and shelters in Thailand, he said.

In the meantime, Gen Prayut said Thailand would continue to take care of the refugees on humanitarian grounds although this will inevitably result in an increased burden on the country.

To handle these refugees, Thailand is considering adopting the same approach as it did with the return of Hmong refugees from Tham Krabok to Laos several years ago, said the prime minister.

“At this time, as a representative of the [Burmese] government, Ms Suu Kyi will be received on a government-to-government basis,” he said.

Suu Kyi previously visited Thailand as a pro-democracy activist in 2012, he said.

Burma’s de facto leader will meet Gen Prayut at Government House on Friday.

Thai Foreign Ministry spokesman Sek Wannamethee said Suu Kyi, who is also Burma’s foreign minister, has cancelled a visit to a Burmese refugee camp at Ban Tham Hin in Ratchaburi province on Saturday after a potential for bad weather raised safety concerns.

Maj Gen Piyaphan Pingmuang, deputy spokesman of the National Police Office, said yesterday the Thai police were ready to ensure Suu Kyi’s safety throughout her visit.

Ahead of the meeting between Gen Prayut and Suu Kyi, the Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN) issued a statement expressing concerns regarding the Thai government’s “poorly” planned, short-term migration policy.

The Thai government has been accused of being too focused on the seafood industry and fishing boats despite the fact that systematic migrant exploitation exists across the country and in most industrial sectors. The European Union has threatened the government with a potential seafood ban to Europe if it does not mend its ways in the fishing industry.

The migrant group recommended a national development plan with a long-term migration policy to be developed in line with economic and human security principles. In addition, a migration authority should be established under the Prime Minister’s Office to develop Thailand’s migration policy and issues relating to migrant workers.

Thailand should ensure proper enforcement to prevent corruption and ensure compliance with human rights, labor rights and social protection laws in labor matters, the group said.