Karen refugees begin return to Burma
The first Karen refugees living in camps along the Thai border will return to their homes in Burma more than 30 years after first being forced to flee.
The UNHCR has reached agreement for the voluntary repatriation of 161 refugees beginning this week from five refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border, according to local media reports.
The first batch of refugees that will be voluntary repatriated under an agreement between the Royal Thai Government and the Government of the Union of Burma.
UNHCR says it has the permission of the Thai Ministry of Interior, to prepare for the organized return of 50 refugee households registered at the UNHCR Voluntary Repatriation Centres at Mae La, Umpheim, Ban Don Yang and Ban Mai Nai Soi.
Speaking to the website Karen News, Secretary of the Karen Refugee Committee (KRC) Saw Bwe Say confirmed the deal.
“UNHRC informed us about the plan, the number of people and locations. But, it doesn’t include the names and ages of the people. They said they will let us know after the return process on May 7,” Mr Say said
According to UNHCR, 161 refugees are voluntarily returning to Burma, these include; 60 people from 20 households in Mae La, 35 people from 13 households in Nu Po, 30 people from 8 households in Umphiem, 35 people from 9 households in Ban Mai Nai Soi, and 1 person from Ban Don Yang.
Community leader at the Mae La refugee camp Saw Honest told Karen News he did not know all the details concerning the return of the camp residents, as it has been kept confidential.
“We don’t know who are going back because it was planned by Thai [authorities] and UNHCR. We only know the number of households and their population. Previously, UNHCR told us that 101 people were registered to return voluntarily,” Mr Honest said.
“But now, they are only planning to send back 60 people. They said that they would tell us the names and ages only after the return process was completed.”
The UNHCR said that it would provide aid during the repatriation process via the International Organisation for Migration (IOM), and that they will give 1,800 Thai Baht to each person for their transportation costs and an additional 5,400 Thai Baht for each adult and 3,600 Thai Baht for each child.
The UNHCR said that the World Food Program (WFP) will provide each person with Thai Baht 2,100 equivalent to six month rations, on their departure, as well as provide mosquito nets, hygiene kit for women, travel bag and documents.
According to UNHCR, there are 99,886 refugees in nine refugee camps along the Thai Burma border. Many refugees said that they are still observing the current Burma political situation and armed conflicts before considering repatriation.
Human rights groups say the ethnic minorities, such as the Karen and Chin peoples, were persecuted by the former Burmese military government over 30 years.
They say the Burmese army systematically destroyed villages in operations described by some as ethnic cleansing.
AMES Australia Senior Journalist