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  1. #1
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    Tak Province : Time to close Burma camps, says Thai governor

    Time to close Burma camps, says Thai governor


    Refugees of the Karen peoole - mainly from southern Burma - at the Mae La refugee camp in northern Thailand.
    [AFP]

    The governor of Thailand's Tak Province says it is time to consider repatriating voluntarily Burmese refugees along the Thai-Burmese border.

    Tak Province hosts thousands of Burmese refugees and many more migrants live and work in the province's main town, Mae Sot.

    The comments from governor Samart Loifah came after Burmese dictator Than Shwe announced the dissolution of the State Peace and Development Council - the ruling regime in Burma since it seized power in a military coup in 1988.

    AlertNet reported that Samart Loifah said Burma is no longer violent, and Thais should start considering asking the refugees to return voluntarily.

    He also urged international donors to reduce funding to the refugee camps to encourage people to leave Thailand, said the report.

    There are around 145,000 people in nine Burmese camps along the Thai-Burmese border.

    radioaustralianews.net.au

    see also :

    http://teakdoor.com/thailand-and-asi...ml#post1699864 (Thai-Burma Friendship Bridge closed by authorities)

    and

    http://teakdoor.com/thailand-and-asi...ml#post1699907 (Thai-Burma Friendship Bridge closed by authorities)

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    Encourage repatriating voluntarily. That would be akin to a death sentence. Alternatively, Thailand could lead the ASEAN or world community towards an overthrow of the long and brutal Burmese regime. Surely, this might be considered a paradox, as the long-held official {and unofficial} Burma policy has been largely agreed to.

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    Refugees fearful of Thai warning | Democratic Voice of Burma

    Refugees fearful of Thai warning

    By NAW NOREEN
    Published: 11 April 2011


    A Thai soldier escorts Karen refugees who fled across the border in November last year (Reuters)


    A Thai governor’s recent suggestion that thousands of refugees housed in camps along its northwestern border may have to return to Burma has sparked concern among the refugee community.

    More than 145,000 men, women and children have lived in nine camps in Thailand for the past 30 years but that may soon end, Tak governor Samart Loifah told media last week, adding that the Thai government should consider asking them to return voluntarily.

    He also reportedly said that foreign assistance to the camps should be cut to encourage them to leave, while Thailand had ditched plans to screen those without legal status to see if they qualified as genuine refugees, and not economic migrants.

    Unsurprisingly, this has not gone down well among the refugees, the majority of whom have fled decades of conflict in Burma’s eastern Karen state.

    “I won’t go back even if the government says so,” said Saw Tapeseh, who lives in Nobo camp in Phop Phra district. “I have no home to go back to – the villages I used to live as a child have disappeared. I don’t know where to return to. There is no security for me to return next year; the border area is currently littered with landmines and clashes.”

    Fighting continues along the Karen state border as Burmese troops battle an ethnic alliance of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA) and the Karen National Union (KNU).

    Saw Tun Tun, chairman of Mae La camp, the largest in Thailand with a population of nearly 46,000, said he had little optimism that things would change in Burma.

    “I don’t think they [new Burmese government] will be able to solve armed conflicts in the border region. That’s why we harbour no hope of returning yet… The international organisations concerned must provide us with the minimum level [of assistance].”

    Refugees have continued to move back and forth across the border since a fresh wave of fighting broke out in November last year. The border area remains heavily landmined, and civilians are often forced to porter for the Burmese army.

    There have also been rumours that the Burmese army has threatened to confiscate property belonging to the refugees unless they return this month.

    Saw Albert from the Thailand-based Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) said that the refugees could face problems obtaining food and accommodation if they are sent back soon, particularly those who fled years ago.
    "Slavery is the daughter of darkness; an ignorant people is the blind instrument of its own destruction; ambition and intrigue take advantage of the credulity and inexperience of men who have no political, economic or civil knowledge. They mistake pure illusion for reality, license for freedom, treason for patriotism, vengeance for justice."-Simón Bolívar

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    100,000-plus refugees to be sent home
    12/04/2011

    Thailand plans to close all refugee camps along its western border and send more than 100,000 Burmese back home now that a constitutional government has been installed in Burma.

    National Security Council Chief Thawil Pliensri said the closure of the refugee camps was discussed at the agency's meeting yesterday chaired by Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva.

    Thailand has provided shelter for about 140,000 Burmese refugees in Tak, Mae Hong Son, Kanchanaburi and Ratchaburi provinces.

    Most of the camp residents came from strife-torn villages in eastern Burma, which has been plagued by a decades-old conflict between the military and ethnic minority rebels.

    Burma's new president, former premier Thein Sein, is one of several generals who shed their military uniforms to contest the November election.

    Mr Thawil said most of these refugees have been in Thailand for more than 20 years.

    "I cannot say when we will close down the camps, but we intend to do it," he said.

    "We are now in the process of discussion with the Burmese government."

    But Kitty McKinsey, spokeswoman for the UN Relief Agency in Bangkok, said it was too soon to send the refugees home.

    "We have been working very well with the Thai government and we do understand that they don't want the refugees to stay here forever," she said.

    "But the solution is not forcing people to go back to a country that is still dangerous. What we would really like to see is that the returns are done in safety and dignity, and they absolutely have to be voluntary," she said.

    Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya and newly-appointed Burmese Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin discussed the issue during their meeting on the sidelines of the Special Informal Asean Foreign Ministers' meeting at Bangkok's Shangri-La hotel yesterday.

    Spokesman Thani Thongpakdi quoted Mr Kasit as saying that the Thai government would take part in running administrative work in nine camps managed by foreign non-government organisations.

    "The Thai government will help provide training in education and human resources development as well as improve their quality of life to prepare them to return to Burma so they can play constructive roles in their country," said Mr Thani.

    He added that Mr Lwin said Burma was ready to take the refugees back.

    bangkokpost.com

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    Thailand-Burma discuss plan to return refugees to Burma
    Tuesday, 12 April 2011

    Bangkok (Mizzima) – A sideline talk between the foreign ministers of Thailand and Burma has led Thailand to discuss plans to close down all nine refugee camps on its border, The Bangkok Post reported on Tuesday.



    No official actions or date to begin the shut-down were approved. The Thai government said plans to provide training and skills to the refugees would be part of any plan.

    There are more than 140,000 refugees on the Thailand-Burma border, with some refugees living in the camps for more than 20 years.

    A spokesperson for Thai Foreign Minister Kasit Tiromya said: "The Thai government will help provide training in education and human resources develop

    mizzima.com

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    There is a good percentage whom will be sent to certain death .

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    What lies behind Thailand

    What lies behind Thailand’s Burma refugee plan?

    By Francis Wade
    Apr 12, 2011 2:23PM UTC



    Twice in the past week Thailand has said it intends to begin the process of returning refugees to Burma. How and when it will go about doing this remains unclear: Tak governor Samart Loifah said that they should now consider returning “voluntarily”, while national security chief Tawin Pleansri spoke of a plan to begin closing the nine border camps in lieu of their deportation.

    Both men consider the 145,000-plus refugees a “burden” on Thailand: they destroy natural resources in Tak province, where the three largest camps are located, and make the locals feel they were better cared for than Thais, Samart claimed.

    But most tellingly, he said that Burma considers the Thai border region a ‘safe haven’ for ethnic Karen and Shan rebels who have for decades been able to move freely across the porous border. Burma’s conflict with the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) has stretched over 60 years, and is possibly the world’s longest-running; Thailand has historically allowed Karen troops a certain degree of movement inside its border because it felt the rebels could act as a buffer to protect against its traditional enemy, the Burmese army.

    But the latest murmurings show that the times may be changing: top Burmese government officials have, rightly or wrongly, said on several occasions in recent weeks that rebels shelter among the refugees in the camp, and Thailand’s recent disquiet about the refugees may reflect more a submission to Burma’s hidden demands than any real substance behind the “natural resource burden” claims.


    Burma refugees, with their belongings, walk on a street to a pier in Mae Sot, Thailand. Pic: AP.


    There is also a prominent business element to the saga: the overland trade route through the Mae Sot-Myawaddy Friendship Bridge has been closed since July last year, with initial speculation that Naypyidaw was protesting attempts by Thailand to re-route the Moei river, which divides the two countries.

    Thailand’s Foreign Trade Department estimated in October last year that around $US3 million was being lost each day due to the closure of the bridge, the main land-crossing between the two countries. In 2009 trade through Mae Sot was worth about $US860 million, nearly a quarter of the total annual bilateral trade.

    According to Samart, however, the river is not the problem, but more the people who come across it: the Burmese feel that Mae Sot has become an enclave for KNLA troops, Samart argued, and the border closure would last until Thailand stops giving succour to the resistance movement.

    This development has unfolded in tandem with Thailand’s tightening up on restrictions for refugees. Unlike bygone days when Thailand would provide a safe haven for those who needed it, some 10,000 Karen who fled earlier this year were forced to find shelter in flimsy makeshift camps along the Moei river, with the threat of deportation always in the air.

    Rather than a being burden on Thailand’s natural resources (that claim really lacks credibility), the refugees have become a political inconvenience to a country looking to reassert itself on the new Burmese government. Thailand recently lost its spot at the top of Burma’s foreign investment table to China, and with that much of its economic muscle in the country. The economic crutch provided by China has meant that Burma can afford to wield more clout with its neighbours, hence almost blackmailing Thailand into returning refugees, one of the most internationally visible signs of Burma’s hidden domestic crisis.

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    Bangkok Post : Refugee safety 'must be assured'

    Refugee safety 'must be assured'

    Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said yesterday Thailand will send more than 100,000 Burmese refugees home only when their safety is guaranteed.

    Thailand will send the refugees back "when it's safe for them to return", Mr Abhisit said without specifying when that might be.

    The government would constantly monitor and evaluate the situation inside Burma to see if it would be safe to repatriate the refugees, he said.

    The prime minister met briefly yesterday with newly appointed Burmese Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin who is visiting Bangkok this week.

    He said the planned repatriation of the refugees was among issues he discussed with the Burmese minister in addition to bilateral cooperation on drugs trafficking, human trade and border security.

    National Security Council secretary-general Thawil Pliensri also reaffirmed the government's plan to close down Burmese refugee camps along the western Thai-Burmese border.

    He said all of the refugees would be repatriated and those who could not return to Burma would be sent to third countries.

    Mr Thawil said the closing of the camps and repatriation of displaced Burmese, who have been in the country for more than two decades, would be conducted in accordance with democratic principles.

    Mr Thawil did not give a specific timeline for the camp closure. He said the plan would boost relations between Burma and Thailand as neighbouring countries and members of Asean.

    According to the security chief, more than 100,000 Burmese refugees stay in the four western provinces of Tak, Mae Hong Son, Kanchanaburi and Ratchaburi.

    Although their status originally was intended to be temporary, they had been there for more than two decades. Their presence is undeniably a burden to Thailand, Mr Thawil said.

    As Burma had completed a general election last year and was moving towards democracy and the new civilian government was developing border areas where the refugees could start a new life, it was time for their repatriation, Mr Thawil said.

    He conceded some refugees might not be able to return to Burma. In that case, he said the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees(UNHCR) must find a third-party country for their settlement.

    Kitty McKinsey, UNHCR's spokesperson in Asia, said the repatriation issue was "hypothetical" at this point.

    "There is no deadline set for the closure of the camps, and no indication that anyone will be compelled to go back to [Burma] against their will," Ms McKinsey said.

    "Neither the refugees nor we feel that conditions are right for them to go home right now.

    "When the time comes, their decision to go home will need to be voluntary, and they will need to go home in safety and dignity."

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    Bangkok Post : Plan to close refugee camps

    Opinion > Opinion

    EDITORIALIt is unclear why authorities picked this week to announce they intend to close their camps and expel some 100,000 Burmese refugees. National Security Council chief Thawil Pliensri gave no reason why he was addressing the situation so publicly just now. But he and other senior officials need to speak carefully about an issue that reflects so much on the country's image.

    As Mr Thawil himself said, no decisions have been made on either the procedures or the timing of repatriating Burmese refugees. It is important that authorities continue to treat the unfortunate Burmese migrants with the care and sympathy they deserve.

    The government has been pushing Burma on the refugee issue recently. That is because of last November's so-called election in Burma, which supposedly put the country on a path to what the military junta calls "controlled democracy". The idea behind the flurry of diplomatic talks is that since Burma has had elections, changed its goals and espouses a decent system of government, it can and should welcome home those who fled in the search for a decent, secure home.

    That home should not be Thailand, of course. In a better world, the Burmese citizens would not be fleeing their homeland. But no one has ever accused the Burmese leadership of running a perfect country. For the past 20 years and more - the 1988 massacre of protesters in Rangoon was a watershed in convincing Burmese to leave - Burma's generals have led a brutal and unsafe regime. Their treatment of political dissidents is well known. Most of the refugees who have fled to Thailand - and to India and China - are not fleeing direct persecution, but rather getting away from the grinding poverty of Burma, where the future seems grim.

    The military junta has approached the issue of refugees in Thailand with the uncaring attitude of most dictators. The generals showed no interest in the fate of 100,000 of their people, and regularly refused to discuss repatriation seriously, on the grounds many of the immigrants in Thailand had no Burmese ID cards. They criticised both the refugees and various Thai governments for fomenting paramilitary and terrorist attacks inside Burma.

    It is understandable, then, why Foreign Minister Kasit Piromya and other officials have opened talks with Burma. At least the Burmese authorities are willing to discuss the issue.

    Mr Kasit, according to government sources, engaged new Burmese Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin at Monday's Asean meeting in Bangkok. While no deal on repatriation was reached, for the first time the Burmese minister did not dismiss the issue out of hand.

    As the United Nations High Commission for Refugees' spokeswoman said, however, care must be taken in any repatriation programme. Kitty McKinsey said correctly that the refugees should not be forced back - and that the Burmese authorities must welcome them.

    Thailand has a good record on providing help and refuge to unfortunate people, but this has been badly marred by recent forced returns of Lao Hmong, and by harsh treatment of the Burmese Rohingya.

    The Rohingya refugees have resulted in many sad stories. Last weekend, about 80 of the Burmese Muslims were abandoned by dishonest human traffickers on a beach in Burma's Irrawaddy Delta and told they were in Thailand.

    Heavily persecuted by their own government, the Rohingya have also suffered overseas, including in Thailand. Repatriation of the Burmese must be handled more diplomatically and carefully.

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    Anger over Thai plan to return Burmese refugees - Asia, World - The Independent

    By Andrew Buncombe, Asia Correspondent

    Wednesday, 13 April 2011



    AFP/GETTY IMAGES
    There are about 140,000 refugees in camps such as Mae La, many of them members of the persecuted Karen tribe


    Thai authorities have sparked an outcry by revealing that they are in talks with Burma over proposals to send more than 140,000 refugees back across the border. The head of the national security council, Tawin Pleansri, said the government planned to close camps established along the border with Burma over the past two decades and make residents return.

    "They have been in Thailand for more than 20 years and it became our burden to take care of them," he said. "I cannot say when we will close down the camps, but we intend to do it. We are now in the process of discussion with the Burmese government."

    Aid agencies say there are at least 140,000 refugees living in the camps and that many are members of Burmese ethnic tribes which have suffered repeated repression at the hands of the Burmese army. Even today, say aid groups, new refugees are making the journey across the border to seek sanctuary inside the camps.

    "It's impossible to close these camps. It would put people back into a dangerous place, to a place where international NGOs have no access," said K'nyaw Paw of the Karen Women's Organisation, speaking from the border town of Mae Sot, close to several of the camps. "It would be forced repatriation if they did this. No one from the government has spoken to the people in the camps."

    Ms Paw said claims by the Thai authorities that the Burmese government had been transformed to a civilian administration in the aftermath of last year's controversial election were entirely false. While the junta had officially been disbanded, the military and its senior general, Than Shwe, remained in control. "All they have done is change their clothes," she said.

    The camps inside Thailand are overseen and operated by the Thai-Burma Border Consortium, a coalition of aid groups that provides food and medical care for the refugees, who live in bamboo huts and behind barbed wire. The refugees' movements are strictly controlled and some have liked the camps to "green prisons".

    When The Independent visited the camps, many of the refugees spoke of their desire to return to Burma, but only when the situation was safe to do so. The Karen people are among those tribes who have repeatedly suffered murder and repression in attacks by the Burmese army that have seen them increasingly lose control of swaths of their territory.

    Mark Farmaner, of the Burma Campaign UK, said that over the years anywhere up to 65,000 refugees had been voluntarily relocated to third countries, including the US, Norway, Ireland and the UK. "The fact that this has happened and yet the total number in the camps is not going down shows that the root causes of what is driving people there has not been addressed," he said.

    Mr Farmaner said that the governor of Thailand's Tak province, where many of the camps are located, had recently stepped up persecution of the refugees. He believed a series of hydro-electricity plants being planned in the east of Burma, and which would provide power for Thailand, may be a factor in the decision by Thai officials to please the Burmese authorities.

    Yesterday, Thailand's Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva – who is preparing for an election contest this summer – was questioned about the plans to close the camps. He told reporters that the refugees would be sent back "when it's safe for them to return".

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    TIME: Will Thailand send 140,000 refugees back to Burma? – Robert Horn

    Mon 18 Apr 2011

    Bangkok – More than 140,000 refugees will be forced back to war-torn Burma unless Thailand’s Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva shows a rare bit of backbone in dealing with his country’s increasingly powerful security forces. Last week, the nation’s head of security announced its intention to close nine refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border after elections were held in Burma last fall. The announcement drew sharp criticism from human-rights groups and representatives of Burma’s ethnic minorities who said the refugees would face persecution, torture, rape and worse if sent back to Burma under current conditions. “Burma is still a dangerous place — too dangerous for the refugees to return,” says Sunai Phasuk of Human Rights Watch.Thailand has served as a safe haven for refugees from neighboring countries for four decades, sheltering hundreds of thousands over the years from Cambodia, Laos, Vietnam and, most recently, Burma. Ethnic Karen, Shan, Mon and others have been spilling into Thailand since the 1980s when Burma’s military regime began launching a brutal series of armed campaigns to bring ethnic regions fighting for autonomy under its control. The Burmese military has a documented record of burning villages, torture, rape, summary executions and forcing villagers to serve as porters for soldiers and to work in other forms of slave labor.

    Echoing security leaders, Thai government spokesman Panitan Wattanayagorn said recent elections in Burma “show that things are beginning to improve.” But with leading opposition figures like Aung San Suu Kyi barred from running, and many ethnic groups disenfranchised by the military, Western governments and human-rights groups have labeled the elections a sham.

    Furthermore, fighting has intensified in recent months as Burma’s army attempts to crush ethnic militias who have refused to lay down their arms. “There is fighting in Shan state and Chin state, not just in Karen state. It is very unstable and people are still fleeing,” says Naw Zipporah Sein of the Karen National Union. Ethnic Karen make up the majority of the refugees who face returning. “Even when there is no battle going on, villagers are still rounded up for forced labor, raped, tortured, killed and have their property stolen by the Burmese army. They are still using villagers as human minesweepers.”

    Panitan said Abhisit instructed security officials to prepare an evaluation of the situation before he would decide whether or not to shutter the camps. He says there is no timetable for sending the refugees back to Burma, and for that to happen, two conditions must be met: “that the situation for them is safe, and that Burma will accept them.” (See pictures of refugees living in cities around the world.)

    Sending some 140,000 Burmese refugees back to Burma against their will will not do Thailand’s humanitarian image any favors. Thailand’s record of compassion has already been marred by actions that can only be described as heartless: in 1988 students who fled the slaughter of democracy protesters by Burma’s military government were handed over to the junta by Thailand’s then Defense Minister General Chavalit Yongchaiyudh. In 1997, then Prime Minister Chavalit had Karen refugees, including women and children, pushed back into the path of a Burmese army offensive.

    In late 2009, despite international protests, Abhisit repatriated over 4,000 ethnic Hmong to Laos, where the ethnic minority’s persecution has been well documented. Earlier that same year, the Thai military was accused of pushing Rohingya boat people who had fled from Burma back out to sea. Abhisit ordered the practice stopped, but allegations again surfaced recently that such incidents have continued.

    Many expected that Abhisit, who is Oxford educated and has a more international outlook than his predecessors, would place humanitarian principles first in matters relating to refugees when he became Prime Minister in late 2008. Instead, his record of callousness rivals Chavalit’s. “Abhisit’s record on refugees has been a catalog of violations of international refugee law,” says Benjamin Zawacki of Amnesty International. Though Thailand has not signed the U.N. treaty that obliges its domestic laws to comply with the principle of nonrefoulement, or not forcibly returning refugees back to harm’s way in their home country, it is unusual for nations in good international standing to do so. “As a matter of customary international law, Thailand cannot forcibly return refugees to countries where they will face persecution. Abhisit’s government has done that time and time again.”

    But it’s the Thai military — not the Prime Minister — that appears to be calling the shots in the nation’s security matters these days. Military leaders allegedly pressured members of parliament to elect Abhisit Prime Minister in December 2008, and he relied on the military to suppress street protests by opposition Red Shirts in 2009 and 2010. The military vetoed a Ministry of Foreign Affairs decision to allow international observers along the Thai-Cambodian border, where fighting erupted earlier this year. It has been accused of using cluster bombs that have been outlawed by international law and has said it opposes signing the 2008 Convention on Cluster Munitions banning their use. More than 100 countries have signed the Convention. Thailand has yet to sign. (See pictures of the 2010 Red Shirt protests.)

    Should he send the refugees back, Abhisit would be satisfying no one but the military; there has been no public outcry in Thailand demanding refugees be returned to Burma. Should he overrule the military, he may “find himself pitted against the same security forces he has previously been unable or unwilling to bring in line,” Amnesty’s Zawacki says. Unless Abhisit can prevail over the hard-liners, his government will suffer another black eye it doesn’t need. But those who will suffer most will be the refugees from Burma.

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    Involuntary Repatriation of Refugees

    Involuntary Repatriation of Refugees—A Bad Idea

    Friday, April 22, 2011

    Thailand is understandably exhausted from providing long-running sanctuary to more than 140,000 Burmese refugees, but any attempt by the kingdom to send all of the refugees back to their homeland will create more problems than it solves and endanger thousands of innocent people.

    With Burma’s recent shift from military rule to a parliamentary government—at least in name— Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva and his administration may see an opportunity to relieve itself of the refugee burden. But the change in Burma’s government is superficial at best, with the former members of the ruling junta maintaining their oppressive stranglehold on the country, and nothing that has happened recently indicates the refugees will be able to return home safely.

    Before taking any step towards sending refugees back to Burma, we strongly recommend that the Thai government carefully observe the situation on the Burmese side of the border, opposite to existing refugee camps in Thailand, where active armed conflict between Burmese government forces and ethnic militias is still ongoing and refugees that have not made it to Thailand are either huddled together in Burmese camps or hiding in the jungle.

    Despite the low-intensity nature of the armed conflicts near the border, which it must be stressed are ongoing, they have resulted in a constantly increasing population of refugees in Thailand. In the past three months, the refugee population in the Thai camps has grown from 141,076 in December to 142,174 in January and 142,653 in February.

    In addition, according to the Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), an umbrella aid agency providing humanitarian assistance to Burmese refugees, more than 20,000 internally displaced persons (IDPs) are now living in nine camps in Shan, Karen and Mon states and the Tenesserium Division. Moreover, there are believed to be thousands of unrecorded IDPs who are hiding in the forests of the hilly border areas, where it remains extremely difficult for international aid agencies, either based inside Burma or Thailand, to access them.

    The Thai government must assess whether the new Burmese government has the political will to stop its military offensives against the ethnic armed groups in these areas, and to safely and systematically relocate the IDPs living in Burmese camps.

    Another factor the Thai government must consider is that both the Burmese army and the ethnic armed groups have used landmines extensively, and thousands of refugees will be endangered by these buried bombs if they are sent back across the border.

    One indication of how the refugees might be received upon their return home is the fact that the new government recently accused them of being rebels. During the recent session of Burma’s new parliament, Minister for Information and Culture Kyaw Hsan said the refugee camps were “base camps” used by ethnic armed groups in their fight against the Burmese army.

    While there may be family members of the ethnic armed groups living in the refugee camps, they are not fighters, but rather the elderly, women and children who have fled their villages to escape the conflict. And this unfounded accusation by a senior official in the new government raises serious doubt about whether the new government will treat the refugees humanely in the event of their repatriation.

    In addition to the large number of the refugees in Thailand who have fled armed conflict near the border, there are many others who left Burma due to political repression. For example, many political activists and Buddhist monks involved in the 2007 “Saffron Revolution” fled to the Thai border town of Mae Sot and ended up in refugee camps in Tak Province.

    If these political refugees are forced to return home, they will surely face persecution by the new government, which has kept in place all of the draconian laws imposed by the former military junta. Their forced repatriation would also be a clear violation of international law, to which Thailand must be held accountable if it wants to be viewed as a responsible state.

    In summary, it seems clear that the facts on the ground inside Burma do not justify the forced repatriation of more than 140,000 persons when doing so would put them in danger and cause great hardship. With many of them no longer having property and possessions in Burma, the threat of imminent danger would likely send many of them back to Thailand in the form of illegal migrants.

    While it is true that Thailand did repatriate the last 4,000 Hmong ethnic refugees back to Laos in 2009, the case of the Burmese refugees is much more complicated and cannot be compared to Thailand’s history with the Hmong.

    Given the complex circumstances, Thailand would be wise to tackle the Burmese refugee issue multilaterally, with analysis and discussions that involve all the stakeholders and the UNHCR.

    We are grateful to the people of Thailand and its government for receiving the refugees for such a long period of time and providing shelter and security during their stay in the kingdom. And we understand that the refugee situation places a tremendous burden on the kingdom.

    But any forced repatriation of Burmese refugees will not only damage the integrity of Thailand, it will complicate the existing instability on the Thailand-Burma border. Sending the refugees home before border stability and political tolerance is established inside Burma is a dangerous, unwise and unacceptable course of action.


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    Karen Refugees Sent Back to Burma
    Friday, May 6, 2011


    Refugees from Karen State, Burma in a temporary shelter in Thailand.
    (Photo: The Irrawaddy)

    MAE SOT, Thailand—More than 1,000 refugees who fled to Thailand earlier this week due to armed conflict in Karen State, Burma were reportedly forced back to the conflict areas, refugees said.

    “Since Thursday afternoon, Thai authorities told us to go back, saying the fighting is over. But actually fighting continues around our village. Therefore, we choose to hide in the jungle instead of going back home,” said a villager from Kyar Inn Seik Gyi Township, Karen State.

    He added that forcing refugees back to the conflict area puts them at risk.

    Following fresh armed conflict in Kyar Inn Seik Gyi township between government troops and an alliance between the Karen National Union and the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army, hundreds of refugees crossed the border into Thailand.

    The refugees sought safety in Umphang Township, Thailand, which is about 210 km from Mae Sot, which sits opposite Burma’s border town of Myawaddy.

    The number of refugees exceeded 1,000 on Thursday, according to aid workers in Mae Sot.

    An officer in the Thai border patrol force, who spoke on condition of anonymity, said “Skirmishes are far from the border. The situation is not very concerning for the refugees. That why they have to go back.”

    Since the beginning of the conflict, the Thai authorities have tightened border security and increased troops. NGO workers in Mae Sot said that except for UNHCR and the Thailand Burma Border Consortium, NGOs have been barred from assisting the refugees.

    irrawaddy.org

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    Quote Originally Posted by Mid
    AlertNet reported that Samart Loifah said Burma is no longer violent, and Thais should start considering asking the refugees to return voluntarily.
    Excuse me Governor , perhaps you should read this :

    Fighting close to Karen state’s Kawkareik erupted yesterday with four artillery shells damaging buildings in the town, including a hospital.

    http://teakdoor.com/thailand-and-asi...ml#post1755144 (Burmese Army in north told to be ready for combat)

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    It would be good to hear Abhisit tell the world in his posh voice how he thinks the Burmese are nice now.

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    Camp inmates suffer due to Thai policy

    Camp inmates suffer due to Thai policy

    By Pravit Rojanaphruk
    The Nation on Sunday
    Published on May 15, 2011

    Expert damns harsh attitude of govt, public; calls for sympathetic approach

    Thailand's policy of keeping refugees from Burma in nine camps along the border has caused untold suffering and shows that the government does not know how to handle refugees.

    This was particularly the case for 60,000 refugees "not registered" by Thai officials, said Veerawit Tianchainan, executive director of Thai Committee for Refugees (TRC).

    Most Thais were not aware that 140,000 refugees had been kept in camps along the border for 26 years, he said.

    Veerawit, who spoke during the global launch of Amnesty International's annual Human Rights Report 2011, alleged that the Thai Army had "recently stop distributing food" to the unregistered refugees.

    "The government has stopped screening them [for registration] since 2006," said Veerawit, and "had tried to force them back to their home country".

    In Tak province, the governor wanted to conduct a head count of refugees in the camps, in order to evict unregistered refugees, Veerawit said. "This is not a good trend."

    He urged Thais to be more sympathetic to refugees: "When the Thai media talks about refugees, they talk about 'problems' and not about ways to treat refugees better.

    "The Thai media produces news based on information provided by the Thai government and they have their own agenda," he said, adding that refugee camps had become a sort of "Bermuda Triangle" where reporters could not enter. "What happens inside the camp, you don't know."

    Veerawit admitted that Thai attitudes towards people from Burma were shaped by school education, which still treats Burma as "the national enemy". Many Thais also failed to make a distinction between migrant workers and refugees.

    However, there was a glimmer of hope, he said, as the Thai government had been more receptive over the past six months and agreed to get high-level officials to meet with leaders of NGOs to discuss the issue.

    Mohamad Nasim, chairman of Thailand's Rohingya Human Rights Association, was among the audience at the Foreign Correspondents Club on Friday and spoke about hardships faced by people detained at the Immigration Detention Centre at Bangkok's Soi Suan Plu.

    He said 44 Rohingyas were now held there, and one had died in detention.

    "I want to know how much longer they will be detained," said Mohamad, who himself is a stateless refugee living in Thailand for the past 23 years. He said two more Rohingyas have died elsewhere in Thailand while being detained.

    "We have nowhere to go."

    According to the just released AI annual global report, some refugees were "forced to return [to Burma] or prevented from crossing the border into Thailand" last November when clashes broke out.

    "This was also true throughout the rest of the year in relation to smaller groups of refugees escaping sporadic fighting across the border," the report stated. "In Waw Lay village in Phop Phra district in Tak province, Thai authorities forcibly returned 166 Burmese refuges on 25 December, at least 360 on 8 December, roughly 650 on 17 November, and approximately 2,500 on 10 November."

    The report also said that unregistered migrant workers are "forcibly removed" to Burma, and were "subject to trafficking and extortion by both Thai officials and a [Burma] government-backed ethnic minority militia", putting them "at risk of serious human rights abuses".

  17. #17
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mid

    AlertNet reported that Samart Loifah said Burma is no longer violent, and Thais should start considering asking the refugees to return voluntarily.

    He also urged international donors to reduce funding to the refugee camps to encourage people to leave Thailand, said the report.

    Karen State Conflict Intensifies
    SAW YAN NAING
    Wednesday, May 18, 2011


    Democratic Karen Buddhist Army’s troops patrol a village in southern Karen State in January.
    (Photo: Irrawaddy)

    Armed clashes have been occurring across Karen State on a near-daily basis for the past four months with no end in sight.

    Divided loyalties following the split in Buddhist Karen ranks over last year's border guard force (BGF) proposal, and a lack of confidence in Naypyidaw's new government have cemented the Karen rebels' resolve against the Burmese army, rebel sources say.

    According to a report from the headquarters of the Karen National Union (KNU), between January and April, a total of 359 clashes have taken place, mostly in southern Karen State, between Burmese government troops and a combined force of the Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) and renegade fighters from Brigade 5 of the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA).

    During that four-month period, the KNU report claims that just six Karen rebels have been killed, and seven injured, while the Burmese army have reportedly lost 611 soldiers, with 848 injured.

    Government sources confirmed to The Irrawaddy that the Burmese army has lost soldiers on a near-daily basis.

    While most battalions of the DKBA remain loyal to the ceasefire agreement the group signed with the Burmese government, a breakaway faction, Brigade 5, led by Brig-Gen Saw Lah Pwe, has turned sides and joined forces with the KNU's military wing, the KNLA.

    Brig-Gen Saw Johnny, the commander of KNLA Brigade 7, said, “So far, we have not seen any positive signs from this new government,” said Johnny. “They [the government] needs to put an end to this armed conflict and bring about peace. They have to call an immediate halt to their assaults in ethnic areas.

    “They have to sit down at the negotiating table with ethnic and opposition leaders and find a solution to the problems,” he added.

    Since Burma staged a general election in November last year, armed conflict has intensified across Karen State in both urban and rural areas.

    The day after the election, on Nov. 8, a serious clash broke out in Myawaddy Township between Burmese government troops and DKBA Brigade 5, forcing more than 20,000 local residents to seek refuge temporarily in Thailand.

    Sources said that the Karen rebels have become markedly stronger since Brigade 5 led split from government ranks and rejoined its old ally, the KNLA.

    Karen rebel sources have claimed that there is a great deal of internal conflict within the newly founded BGF units, which are formed by former members of the DKBA. Some of the Karen BGF members have reportedly deserted and defected to the KNLA and the DKBA.

    “We are stronger than before,” said Col Paw Doh of the KNLA. “Our troops can now patrol areas that we had abandoned in the past.”

    “If the government wants to meet and talk with us in the interest of peace, we will ensure a reduction in hostilities,” he said. “Otherwise, the conflict will go on. It all depends on the new government.”

    According to a recent Karen Human Rights Group (KHRG) report, at least three civilians died and eight were injured during battles between April 22-30 in Kya In Township in southern Karen State. The firing of mortars by the Burmese army in civilian villages also forced at least 143 villagers from four villages to seek refuge across the Thai border.

    On May 13, the KHRG reported that the firing of mortars and light skirmishes were ongoing in the areas of K' Lay Kee and Noh Taw Plah, and that some villagers continued to seek refuge at discreet locations in Thailand.

    irrawaddy.org



    Samart Loifah said Burma is no longer violent

    Armed clashes have been occurring across Karen State on a near-daily basis for the past four months with no end in sight.

    Khun Loifah , you speak with forked tongue .

    .

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    Myanmar refugees living in fear

    May 23, 2011

    Myanmar refugees living in fear

    MAE LA CAMP (Thailand) - AT FIRST sight the bamboo huts nestled at the foot of soaring limestone cliffs in the jungle could be mistaken for an eco-tourism haven - except for the barbed wire and armed guards.

    Beyond the perimeter fence and security checkpoints, designed to keep the residents in and unwanted visitors out, tens of thousands of refugees from war-torn eastern Myanmar are living in fear of being sent home.

    Thailand's announcement in April that it wants to close nine border camps, holding more than 140,000 displaced people, has sent ripples of anxiety through the traumatised communities after a more than two-decade presence.

    'We're scared to go back,' said Suai Pu, 27, who fled Myanmar six years ago with his wife and son and lives in the biggest camp, Mae La, home to about 46,000 people packed into around four square kilometres.

    'People are so worried. They are praying. They cannot sleep,' he said. 'We don't have a home. We don't have land. If we go back, what can we do?' According to the Thailand Burma Border Consortium, a group of international non-governmental organisations operating along the border, as of March the camps held about 143,000 refugees from Myanmar, also known as Burma.

    Most are Karen, whose eastern state is the scene of one of the world's longest-running civil wars, stretching back six decades. Others include minority Chin, Mon and long-suffering Rohingya, as well as majority Burmans. -- AFP

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    UK Ambassador to Rangoon Visits Thai Border

    UK Ambassador to Rangoon Visits Thai Border

    By SAW YAN NAING
    Friday, June 3, 2011


    Ambassador Heyn (third left) tours Mae La refugee camp on Thursday. (PHOTO: Irrawaddy)

    The British ambassador to Burma, Andrew Heyn, conducted a fact-finding trip to the Thai border to meet with Burmese refugees and leaders of the rebel Karen National Union (KNU) on Thursday afternoon.

    He toured Mae La refugee camp, 60 km from Mae Sot where he held talks with the camp committee and witnessed the living conditions in the camp—where more than 40,000 Burmese refugees are sheltered. Many of the refugees, the majority of whom are ethnic Karen, fled their homeland due to Burmese army attacks.

    During his trip to the border, Heyn held a separate meeting with KNU leaders where they talked about the ongoing armed conflict in eastern Burma.

    Zipporah Sein, the general-secretary of the KNU, said, “It is a fact-finding mission about what is really going on at the border and in Karen State. I think he [Ambassador Heyn] doesn’t want to listen only to the government. He wants to listen to both sides.

    “We told him [Heyn] that we think there is no political change in Burma as fighting breaks out almost every day in Karen State, and the government hasn’t withdrawn its troops from the region,” she said.

    The KUN leader said that the KNU would always welcome dialogue with the government to solve the ongoing political crisis. Armed conflict should be solved by political means, she said, adding that “if there is no tangible pressure on the government, we don’t see any sign the government will hold dialogue with us.”

    During his trip, Heyn also raised the issue of a need of continued humanitarian support on the border.

    Tun Tun, the chairman of Mae La camp, said that he had explained to the UK ambassador about the impact of reduced funding to the camp, highlighting a shortfall in education, health care and food.

    Heyn also met and questioned several Karen refugee families who had recently fled from the conflict surrounding their villages in Karen State.

    A housewife who talked to Heyn said, “The ambassador asked me the reason I fled to Thailand. I told him that I came here because I can’t stay a moment longer in my village because of the war.”

    Tun Tun said that he told the ambassador that an end to the civil war depends on the Burmese government, which is the sole party that can bring about concrete changes, national reconciliation and peace in the country.

    The camp committee told the ambassador that the fundamental rights of refugees must be fully respected when trying to solve refugee affairs, most notably repatriation.

    Several observers said that repeated trips by foreign officials to refugee camps may be related to the repatriation of the refugees. Visits by foreign dignitaries frequently follow reports that refugee camps will be closed and refugees repatriated by the Thai authorities.

    Thai officials have recently conducted visits to several refugee camps where they invariably ask refugees if they want to return to Burma. Thailand has promised that only those refugees who volunteer to return home will be repatriated. There are nine refugee camps on the Thai-Burmese border housing more than 140,000 refugees.


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    Bangkok Post : Lawyers warn on refugee repatriation

    Lawyers warn on refugee repatriation

    The next government must adhere to the international principles of voluntary repatriation and protecting refugees from danger if it goes ahead with plans to close down refugee camps, the Lawyers Council of Thailand says.

    The council's subcommittee on the human rights of ethnic, stateless, and migrant workers, led by Surapong Kongchantuk and Nassir Achawarin, urged the government to show caution, in remarks to mark World Refugee Day which falls on June 20.

    The move came after authorities earlier said they would close nine refugee camps along the Thai-Burmese border following the installation of a newly-elected Burmese government.

    The subcommittee has issued a 62-page report to warn the Thai government not to neglect its underlying humanitarian obligations to the 140,000 refugees living in the camps.

    The next government should also heed the guidelines which highlight the basic principle of voluntary repatriation, and oppose repatriation of refugees into danger areas, which are non-negotiable, said Mr Surapong, chairman of the subcommittee.

    Mr Surapong stressed that Thai authorities that failed to abide by the principles may face criminal charges under domestic and international laws.

    He said the government needed to carefully evaluate the situation in Burma which has yet to address its history of human rights abuses and undertake meaningful democratic development.

    There have yet to be transparent discussions between Thailand and the UN High Commission for Refugees and between the UN agency and Burma to ensure the safety of the refugees if they are repatriated, Mr Surapong said.

    Any repatriation arrangements between Burma and Thailand must also consider the refugees' wishes, he said.

    He said all necessary information about the situation in Burma and the process of repatriation had to be shared with the refugees.

    "There must not be duress or threatening actions that push them back home against their will," Mr Surapong said.

    Safety and dignity was another non-negotiable principle, the lawyers said.

    "We are already party to the Convention against Torture and the International Convention on Civil and Political Rights, which provide blanket protection to all people, including refugees residing in Thailand," the lawyers said. "They must be treated fairly under these international norms."

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    IRIN Asia | MYANMAR-THAILAND: Aid workers welcome Burmese refugee census | Myanmar | Thailand | Refugees/IDPs

    MYANMAR-THAILAND: Aid workers welcome Burmese refugee census


    Photo: Brennon Jones/IRIN

    Thai authorites began the count in May


    BANGKOK, 9 June 2011 (IRIN) - Aid workers have welcomed a “long overdue” headcount of Burmese refugees living in three of 10 camps along the Thai-Burmese border, hoping this will address the problems of thousands who are unregistered and thus missing out on vital services.

    The census began in late May on the orders of Samart Loifah, governor of Tak Province, where the Mae La, Umpiem Mai, and Nu Po camps are located.

    “Currently around 40 percent of the camp population is unregistered,” Sally Thompson, deputy executive director of the Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), an umbrella group of 12 international NGOs working to assist refugees and displaced people from Myanmar. Such people do not have access to health, education and other services available to those who are registered, she said.

    The Thai government stopped screening and registering new arrivals in 2005 after officially giving refugee status to nearly 140,000.

    About 70,000 have since received third-country resettlement - mainly in the USA, Canada and Australia - while more people, mainly ethnic Karen and Karenni, continue to cross the 1,800km Thai-Burmese border.

    An estimated 50,000 now live as unofficial residents in government-run camps. As of April 2011, TBBC figures show a total camp population of 143,000, while the Ministry of Interior puts the number at 93,000. The census is designed to count the total number of registered and unregistered camp inmates.

    Thompson said TBBC’s primary concern had been the lack of an effective registration process.

    “There are delays in medical referrals and hospital clearances. In the food sector people end up having to share [rations]. Many are sharing accommodation with other friends and relatives. If you’re not registered, you don’t get to vote in the internal elections, so you don’t have a voice.”

    “Nervous and scared”

    Refugees living in the camps “feel insecure” about the implications of the census, the TBBC reports - a concern shared by Burma Partnership, a network of Asia-Pacific organizations supporting human rights in Myanmar. Many refugees suspect Burmese pressure behind the move.

    As of 9 June the census was ongoing, said the Karen Refugee Committee, a refugee representative body within the camps.

    The census is taking place after comments made in April by National Security Council chief Tawin Pleansri that Thailand intends to close down the camps in the future.

    Governor Samart, who ordered the count, has been quoted in the past as expressing dissatisfaction about the economic strain the refugee situation had placed on Thai-Burmese trade, including Myanmar’s decision to close the Thai-Myanmar Friendship Bridge in Tak Province in July 2010.

    Khin Ohmar, the coordinator of Burma Partnership, said that while the census is supposed to be a routine procedure, rumours were circulating within the camps about why it was being conducted now.

    “Since the news on repatriation started, people are very nervous and scared,” she said.

    “They have tried to call for more information. If the count is different from regular procedure, then it will be worrying for the Burmese people. Thailand is the only sanctuary for them.”

    Despite the comments of both Pleansri and Governor Samart, the government of Thailand has not placed any timeframe on repatriating refugees. In April, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said refugees would be sent home to Myanmar only “when it’s safe for them to return”.

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    Neither safe nor voluntary

    June 2011

    By Sandy Barron

    Why is Thailand seemingly keen to force refugees from Burma to return home?


    Threatened sanctuary? The remote Nu Po refugee camp in Tak province, Thailand
    Image: Thailand Burma Border Consortium



    Beset by conflict, the rugged mountains, forests and farmlands of eastern Burma have been a virtual no-go area for decades. Foreigners, including aid groups based in Rangoon, are, with few exceptions, barred from entering vast swathes of the restive territory along Burma’s 2100 km border with Thailand. The Burmese military has established uneasy control over most of the area, and has brokered ceasefire agreements with a number of ethnic armed factions. Meanwhile, several other armed groups, from the Shan, Karen and Karenni communities, maintain significant pockets of resistance.

    For decades, civilians in this beautiful but violence-beset area have contended with a crushing cocktail of poverty, chronic ill-health and conflict-related trauma. In many parts under the control of Burmese troops, whose bosses expect them to live off the land, villagers are subject to constant demands for taxes, labour, farm animals and produce. For its long record of abuses against civilians, including murder, rape, forced labour and the destruction of homes and villages, the Burmese army is the subject of high-level calls for a United Nations commission of inquiry into crimes against humanity. Fear of the army has caused around half a million villagers to hide out in forests inside Burmese territory, while other civilians flee over the border into Thailand.

    Thus it came as a surprise that a high-level official in Thailand has publicly announced the transfer back to this shadowy area of some 150,000 mainly ethnic refugees, currently living in nine Thai camps along the border. ‘I cannot say when we will close down the camps,’ said National Security Chief Tawin Pleansri in April, ‘but we intend to do it. We are now in the process of discussion with the Burmese government.’ The announcement left many observers perplexed. Thailand has provided refugees from Burma with shelter for more than a quarter century, with international donors having footed most of the bill for the spartan camps.

    So what has changed? Not the conflicts, nor the abuses in eastern Burma, where the ethnic Shan, Karen, Karenni and Mon states abut Thailand. There has been no letup during 2011 – quite the contrary, in fact, as there has been sporadic fighting taking place between state troops and resistance Karen and Shan groups. Thousands of new, mainly Karen, refugees have fled to Thailand this year alone. Many areas remain strewn with landmines at high cost to civilian safety, and the ‘normal’ lower-order misery of daily life in areas under ceasefires and elsewhere remains, essentially under the control of the Burmese military.

    The only discernible change is the installation of the new, quasi-civilian, military-backed government in Naypyidaw, after a widely criticised election process in November. The government has yet to institute any significant new policy or programme, and what it will or will not do differently from its predecessors remains unknown. Meanwhile, however, the government is benefiting from a ‘glass half-full’ approach from its partners in ASEAN, from China and, more ambiguously but discernibly, from governments and others farther afield in the West. Under this new scenario, refugee camps are evidently an embarrassment to Naypyidaw as it seeks ever more international acceptance. In March, Information Minister Kyaw Hsan repeated the charge that the camps are nothing but havens for ‘insurgents’, echoing earlier demands that they be closed.

    Counting refugees, again

    In the past, such calls were ignored. Mindful of the Burmese army’s record on human rights, privy to the great weight of documented evidence of its abuses of civilians, and well aware of the complex political realities that created the camps, both Thailand and the international community have seen no other moral or practical course but to provide the refugees with basic food, shelter and a measure of security. Now that approach is undergoing a shift, but without any evidence of conflict reduction or behaviour change on the part of the Tatmadaw, the Burmese army. As Thailand hails the new Naypyidaw government, the European Union and others have publicly suggested that continued long-term support for the camps is unsustainable. Indeed, funding shortages for the refugees this year has already resulted in food cuts.

    Still, it might be too early to sound the alarm, some say. Thailand has made threats about returning the refugees in the past, without follow-through. Yet this time, signs large and small are pointing in the other direction. As head of the National Security Council, Tawin’s statement carries much more weight than earlier similar comments from lower-level officials. This year, for instance, Thailand has been uncompromisingly tough on new refugees fleeing fighting in Karen state, allowing them to stay for only brief periods, with the result that around 10,000 people are now hiding out near the Thai border town of Mae Sot.

    Earlier in the year, Thai soldiers, perhaps operating independently, tried to stop a truck delivering rice to a remote camp. The truck was allowed to pass only when the soldiers were prevailed upon by an aid worker and a Western diplomat. In late April, a reporter visiting a makeshift, unofficial refugee settlement on the Burmese side of the border was surprised to be told that Thai military officials, who were making the same boat journey, were investigating whether any space was available there. In May, it was reported that Thailand would resume counting refugee numbers, after a hiatus of more than a half-decade, for reasons that are as yet unclear.

    For those sitting on the border in bamboo huts, subsisting on reduced rice rations far from the world of policymakers, it could seem that Naypyidaw, Thailand and some in Europe are suddenly singing from a strangely similar hymn sheet. The reasons cited might all be different, but the end game points to the same thing: camp closures. For many refugees who would like nothing more than to return to their homes in peace, this seems unthinkable. In remote Mae Ra Ma Luang camp, Karen refugee Lar Mu says there has been little information about closures or repatriations. ‘People keep fleeing from Burma, especially Karen state, to Thailand [to the Mae Ra Ma Luang camp] due to hardship in the civil war area,’ he says. ‘The attacks on civilians are continuing … For these reasons, I don’t feel that the repatriation will happen this year or next year, or even in the next three or four years.’

    In the past, refugees have always taken comfort from Thai statements that any repatriation would be on a ‘voluntary’ basis, in accordance with international norms. The UN’s refugee agency, UNHCR, evoked those standards again in April, when a Bangkok-based spokeswoman Kitty McKinsey stated that while the refugees clearly could not stay in Thailand ‘forever’, the solution was not in returning people to a country that was ‘still dangerous’. She continued: ‘What we would really like to see is that the returns are done in safety and dignity, and they absolutely have to be voluntary.’

    Also in April, Thai Prime Minister Abhisit Vejjajiva said that while repatriation of refugees was one topic for discussion in a then-upcoming meeting with Burmese Foreign Minister Wunna Maung Lwin, the refugees would go back only ‘when it is safe for them to return’. That sounds reassuring, but the prime minister’s reported statement contained no reference to the ‘voluntary’ aspect of return that is so central to international norms. And, of course, Thailand’s perception of what is safe might well differ from that of others, including the refugees.

    In any case, definitions of both voluntary and safe have proved slippery in many other refugee-repatriation situations around the world. And where there is disagreement, the wishes of the host country have tended to prevail. In other words, if the increasingly friendly Thailand and Burma were to agree that it was ‘safe’ for the refugees to return – possibly first in staggered smaller groups, probably to isolated pockets of ceasefire areas, and probably with the help of various inducements or negative pressures that could include any further food reduction in the camps – there might be little that any outside group, or the refugees themselves, could do to prevent it.

    No change

    Sitting in the Mae Ra Ma Luang camp, Lar Mu believes that the situation is so bad in Karen state, just a few miles across the border, that the refugees could not possibly be sent back there. ‘If it happened, we would have no choice but to protest the forced repatriation,’ he said. He added: ‘We don’t feel safe when the Burmese military is in charge. Although the November election makes the current government look like a parliamentary democracy, we don’t see any change.’

    ‘Change’ is the core of the issue. Burma’s ethnic areas desperately need durable political solutions after decades of war and ceasefires that have, so far, wrought neither development benefits nor genuine peace. Today, there is no part of eastern Burma where peace, justice and the rule of law prevail. Instead, there are landmine-strewn areas of armed conflict that are acutely perilous, and there are areas without armed fighting but where ‘normal’ abuses by Burmese troops and local authorities, combined with economic hardship that often descends into raw hunger, continue to make life unbearable.

    Legally, outsiders can access virtually none of these areas. Sending refugees back there before durable political solutions to Burma’s ethnic conflicts, and before there is real change on the ground, would clearly fly in the face of the evidence of danger to their lives and safety, and would contravene international standards. Lar Mu and the other refugees should therefore have little to fear – perhaps. But those two little words, safe and voluntary, are unreliable friends. The struggle over what they mean appears to have only just begun.

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    Burmese Refugee Census Just Scratching Surface
    SIMON ROUGHNEEN
    Monday, June 20, 2011


    View inside Mae La Camp.
    (Photo: SIMON ROUGHNEEN )

    MAE SOT/MAE LA, Thailand— Oblivious to the late afternoon downpour, six children chase each other near the roadside fence at Mae La, the biggest of nine refugee camps along the Thailand-Burma frontier.

    “Please, no photos of the people,” implores a man standing nearby, sheltering against the wall of one of the thousands of timber huts along the roadside. Three of the children are his, although he refuses to give his name, saying only that he crossed to Thailand from Burma's Karen State “more than one year ago” and has been confined to the camp ever since.

    Acting on the orders of Tak Provincial Governor Samart Loifah, Thai officials started a headcount in Mae La as well as Umpiem Mai and Nu Pu—the two other camps in Tak province. The census is ongoing, with roughly 40 percent of the estimated 140,000 Burmese refugee population in Thailand unregistered.

    The Thai government stopped screening and registering new arrivals in 2005, meaning that there are around 60,000 unregistered refugees from Burma currently inside Thailand, according to Sally Thompson of the Thailand-Burma Border Consortium (TBBC), a grouping of 12 NGOs that assists Burmese refugees in the border camps.In total, Thailand hosts just over 96,000 registered refugees, according to figures released by the United Nations Refugee Commission (UNHCR) in its 2010 Global Trends Report, which was published on Monday to mark World Refugee Day. Pakistan, Iran, and Syria have the largest refugee populations worldwide at 1.9 million, 1.1 million, and one million respectively, with numbers swollen due to wars in Afghanistan and Iraq.

    Overall, the 2010 Global Trends report says that “43.7 million people are now displaced worldwide – roughly equalingthe entire populations of either Colombia, South Korea, or Scandinavia and Sri Lanka combined.” Of this total of displaced, 15.4 million are listed as refugees, 27.5 million people displaced internally by conflict, and nearly 850,000 are asylum-seekers, according to the new report.

    Thailand has long been a refuge for Burmese people affected by oppression and warfare at home, with the 140,000 actual number of refugees, a figure which includes unregistered refugees, joined by around three million Burmese economic migrants working in Thailand. In 2010, a total of 11,400 refugees in Thailand were resettled to third countries, mostly in the West, making Thailand the second-highest refugee resettlement staging point after Nepal. Of that total, 10,825 were from Burma, according UNCHR Asia spokesperson Kitty McKinsey.

    Burma is listed as the world's fifth biggest source country for refugees, ranking close to Colombia and Sudan. As well as Burmese refugees in Thailand, Burma's total refugee output is given by UNHCR at 415,700 and “includes an estimated 200,000 un-registered people in Bangladesh,” mostly Muslim Rohingya from Arakan State in Burma's west.

    With the Tak refugee census ongoing, comments from Governor Samart and other senior Thai officials in recent months about sending refugees back to Burma have prompted consternation in the camps.

    However, calls for the Burmese refugees to be repatriated are premature, according to people familiar with the situation on the ground in ethnic minority regions close to the Thailand border.

    “There is conflict between the SPDC [Burmese military dictatorship prior to the establishment of a new nominally-civilian government earlier this year] and ethnic armed groups in many regions,” says Mahn Mahn, head of the Backpack Health Workers Team, which deploys almost 2,000 medics and associated personnel inside conflict-affected regions of Burma, places where existing health facilities are thin on the ground, or non-existent.

    The latest bout of fighting in the northern Kachin State has forced around 10,000 people from their homes close to the Burma-China border, while in parts of Karen State, source of most of the refugees in adjacent Tak Province in Thailand, “the army has a shoot-on-sight policy, which affects civilians as well as militia fighters,” according to Mahn Mahn. Since November 2010, when elections in Burma were accompanied by fighting in Karen State between the Burmese Army and various Karen factions, more than 30,000 people have been displaced, according to Sally Thompson.

    “Around 6,000 of these are in temporary sites around the border,” she says, referring to new locations outside of the nine main camps.

    Extensive de-mining in Karen State and in Burma's other ethnic regions will be necessary before refugees can return to their homeland, says Saw Maw Kel, a former Karen rebel who lost part of his left leg in 1986 after standing on a landmine. He says that Karen rebels themselves plant landmines close to army locations, but the rebels tell civilians where the mines are located. He claims this is in contrast to the Burmese Army's mines which are laid indiscriminately, affecting villages and making it dangerous to farm or work in forests.

    Saw Maw Kel now runs the prosthetics department at the Mae Tao Clinic in Mae Sot, close to the Thailand-Burma border. “I have more than 200 referrals a year here,” he says, pointing to a whiteboard on the clinic wall which shows that the majority of his caseload to be landmine victims from inside Burma.

    Not all of the cases he deals with are Karen or from the country's other ethnic minorities. Than Tin, an ethnic Burman from Pegu Division, is one of the latest landmine casualties to visit Mae Tao. He lost half his right leg last January.

    “I was lucky I had some friends with me,” he recounts. “One of them tied up my leg with a longyi and they all carried me to Myawaddy Hospital.” The improvised tourniquet likely saved Than Tin's life, allowing him be taken across the border to Mae Sot for treatment.

    Pointing down to his bandaged leg-stump, he says, “it is not safe in many places across the border. I went out with colleagues for a day's work, and have not been able to work since. I nearly died.”
    irrawaddy.org

  24. #24
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    Quote Originally Posted by Mid

    Pakistan, Iran, and Syria have the largest refugee populations worldwide at 1.9 million, 1.1 million, and one million respectively,
    time the west stopped bellyaching and stepped up .

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    Naypyidaw Demands Thai Crackdown on Burmese Dissidents

    Naypyidaw Demands Thai Crackdown on Burmese Dissidents

    By WAI MOE
    Tuesday, July 26, 2011


    Bicycle parts wait to cross the Thai-Burmese border. (Photo: Yeni)

    Thailand’s Tak governor has revealed that the Burmese authorities asked Thailand to crackdown on Burmese dissidents based in the Thai-Burmese border town of Mae Sot.

    Governor Samart Loifah told reporters on Monday that the Thai authorities will tackle dissidents “planting bombs” and leaders of the Karen National Union (KNU)—the largest rebel group fighting for ethnic autonomy and respect for human rights.

    During bilateral meetings to negotiate reopening the Thai-Burmese friendship bridge, Burmese representatives asked their Thai counterparts to remove refugee camps from Thailand which they complain are home to ethnic armed groups. Burmese officials also complained about KNU leaders living in Thailand, claims the Tak governor.

    “The Burmese government has put pressure on their Thai counterparts to take action on these issues. And the closure of the Myawaddy-Mae Sot bridge is related to these issues,” Samart Loifah told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday.

    “If we act on these issues, we hope the Burmese government could reopen the bridge,” he added.

    Responding to the allegations, KNU Joint-Secretary Saw Hla Ngwe said that their leaders are based in their mobilized territory [within Burma] and not in Mae Sot.

    KNU leaders said that any democratic nation does not force back refugees to unstable and conflict-ridden areas, and that he did not think the Thai authorities would send refugees home.

    The Myawaddy-Mae Sot bridge was closed on July 17, 2010, with no explicit date set for it to reopen. Mae Sot businessmen expected the border crossing could resume soon after the Burma elections in November, but there has been no change so far.

    Border trading in recent years was estimated at 140 billion baht or US $4.3 billion until the bridge closure. The crossing boasted 60 percent of bilateral trading along the 1,800 km Burmese-Thai border.

    Since Mae Sot is a significant border route and checkpoint for millions of Burmese migrant workers, many Burmese-related NGOs and exiled dissidents are based there.

    Bo Kyi, joint-secretary of the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners-Burma, told The Irrawaddy on Tuesday that the situation in Mae Sot remains normal.


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