UNHCR and Govt Discuss IDP Resettlement

By Zarni Mann & Saw Yan Naing 26 April 2012

The United Nations High Commissioner Office for Refugees (UNHCR) and Burmese government met in Naypyidaw on Wednesday to discuss the resettlement of Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs) in border areas, state media has reported.

In the meeting, Johannes Gerhard Ten Feld, resident representative of the UNHCR, and
Burmese Minister for Border Affairs Lt-Gen Thein Htay discussed how to enhance cooperation between both parties regarding humanitarian assistance and the resettlement of displaced families, according to The New Light of Myanmar.

Due to armed conflicts between government troops and ethnic armed groups, thousands of civilians in frontier areas have been forced to abandoned their homes and hide in temporary jungle shelters. Many cross into neighboring countries, especially Thailand, where they have lived in makeshift camps for more than two decades.

There are around 150,000 mostly ethnic Karen refugees based in nine camps along the Thai-Burmese border, and an estimated 1.5 million IDPs living in temporary shelters inside Burma itself, according to relief and humanitarian aid agencies.

The meeting has been followed by peace talks between ethnic armed groups and chief government peace negotiator Railways Minister Aung Min, with Naypyidaw wanting to begin resettling IDPs and war refugees before the start of the rainy season in June.

Meanwhile, the local authorities of Thailand have been conducting an informal survey in three refugee camps along the Thai-Burmese border in order to collect the opinions of inhabitants regarding their future.

However, observers say that many issues need to be addressed before any resettlement can begin in Burma. These include the demining of conflict zones, deciding where returnees would live and getting the support of international humanitarian groups.

Kitty McKinsey, the regional spokeswoman for the UNHCR in Asia, said, “Right now, we are not ready to promote return to Myanmar. Of course, we, like the refugees, are closely watching developments inside Myanmar. We know there a lot of things that have to be done.”

She added that the repatriation of refugees should be done on a voluntary basis.

“We know Myanmar is changing very quickly and we want to be prepared,” McKinsey told The Irrawaddy on Thursday. “But the return has to be voluntary. We are ready to assist them when that time comes.”