The Irrawaddy

Will the First Group of Refugee Returns Take Place This Month?

A refugee family hold numbered placards as they pose for a photo during a census conducted by the Thai authorities at Mae La refugee camp, near the Thailand-Myanmar border in Mae Sot district, Tak province, north of Bangkok July 21, 2014. Thai authorities have started conducting the census at Mae La on refugees who fled neighbouring Myanmar, in a bid to crackdown on illegal workers, raising fears among the refugees of an imminent repatriation to Myanmar. Thailand's military government said last Monday it would send home 100,000 refugees who have been living in camps for two decades and more along the border with Myanmar, a move rights groups say would create chaos at a tense time for both nations. The authorities said the census is set to finish at the end of July. REUTERS/Chaiwat Subprasom (THAILAND - Tags: POLITICS SOCIETY TPX IMAGES OF THE DAY) - RTR3ZHEK

RANGOON — The first round of Burmese refugee returns is reportedly taking place later this month from Nu Po refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border, with no exact date yet set.

The return has been arranged by the UN refugee agency, the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR), according to sources from the Karen Refugee Committee (KRC), a community-based organization that facilitates services on refugee matters in Thailand.

When asked, KRC spokesperson Naw Blooming Night Zar told The Irrawaddy that she is not aware of the details of the return plan, as it was directly arranged by the UHNCR.

“We are not aware of the process. As far as we know, it is organized by the UNHCR. They [UNHCR] didn’t let us know. Based on their policy, refugees can independently decide by their own [whether or not to return], so they deal directly with individual refugees,” said Naw Blooming Night Zar.

When The Irrawaddy contacted the UNHCR, Iain Hall, a senior field coordinator for the UNHCR said “there is no date yet communicated on the return of the group from Nu Po” refugee camp. He added, however, that all refugee returns must be voluntary.

He said that the UNHCR had not yet received information from the Burmese and Thai governments on a return date.

“When UNHCR receives information from the Myanmar and Thai governments to confirm the return of the Nu Po group, including the date, then we would be very happy to provide more information,” said Hall.

According to a report by Voice of America quoting Chief Minister of Karen State, Nang Khin Htwe Myint, the first group of returning refugees would include some 56 people take place after October 25.

She said the return was voluntary, and that the Karen State government would provide food, health care and guarantee safety for the returnees. The UNHCR also will provide other required assistance, she added.

The Irrawaddy could not reach Nang Khin Htwe Myint at the time of reporting.

There are more than 120,000 Burmese refugees in nine camps on the Thai border, most of whom are ethnic Karen who fled their homes due to civil war. Many have been in Thailand for more than two decades.