News / Asia

Karen Refugees in Thailand Wary of Return to Burma

Karen refugees practice their singing before a morning prayers at a church inside Mae La refugee camp in Tha Song Yang district, Tak province northern Thailand, Jan. 19, 2012.
Karen refugees practice their singing before a morning prayers at a church inside Mae La refugee camp in Tha Song Yang district, Tak province northern Thailand, Jan. 19, 2012.
TEXT SIZE - +
— Despite Burma’s political opening in recent years, most of the roughly 130,000 Burmese refugees in Thailand are not expecting to return any time soon. A first-of-its kind U.N. survey of refugees indicates that many remain wary of heading back across the border.

A pilot socioeconomic survey commissioned by a United Nations agency has found the majority of those living in the largest refugee camp in Thailand prefer either to be resettled in a third country or to stay in Thailand.

Mireille Girard, the representative in Thailand of the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees, said the responses from more than 6,500 households in the Mae La Temporary Shelter (in Tak province), captured the mood of those living in the camps.

“A lot of people are still making up their mind as we speak. They've not really set their minds. And we're not asking them to make a choice at this stage. We're just trying to assess their intention and aspirations so we can help prepare better for the solutions that they are imagining for themselves,” said Girard.

Only a small number at Mae La expressed a preference to return. The majority cited a continuing lack of trust in the Burmese government and a perceived lack of status or citizenship there. They also mentioned worries about security, how they would make a living and the lack of infrastructure in the communities they fled.

Nearly all of those living in the Mae La camp are ethnic Karen who fled their homeland to escape repression by the military in Burma (also known as Myanmar). There is no permanent cease-fire in most places to which the refugees would return.

UNHCR's Girard concurs conditions have not yet been met for those in Thailand to return home.

“Amnesty, freedom of choice by people of the place that they want to return to, access by humanitarian agencies so we make sure we can visit people on return, etc. These will need to put in place when the time is ripe for people to return, when they are willing to return and eager to return in big numbers. And at that time then we will shift to promoting repatriation. At the moment we are not yet there,” said Girard.

About 130,000 refugees are residing in nine border camps in Thailand. Many of those were born in exile. Eighty percent of the camps' residents are ethnic Karen.

Since 2005, more than 83,000 people who fled Burma to Thailand have resettled in third countries, with most going to the United States.

Thailand ended registration of refugees in 2006 and has maintained that those who are not documented are ineligible to move to a third country. An exception, since last year, is for those who have family members who have resettled elsewhere.

An estimated one million Burmese reside in Thailand, most of them undocumented migrant workers.

After 60 years of military rule, Burma peacefully transitioned in 2010 to a quasi-civilian government. But active or retired army officers continue to wield great authority.

Cease-fire agreements with most of the 13 non-state armed groups are deemed by some observers to be in jeopardy with occasional clashes continuing between ethnic rebels and the Burmese military.

Ethnic Burman dominance over the Karen and other minorities has long been the catalyst for separatist rebellions and has compelled thousands of civilians to flee their homes.

Steve Herman

A veteran journalist, Steven L Herman is the Voice of America Asia correspondent.

You May Like

Algerians Vote in Presidential Election

There were few media reports of protests and clashes around the country, but so far no significant violence More

Sharks More Evolved than Previously Thought

The discovery could “profoundly affect our understanding of evolutionary history” More

Pakistan Military Asked to Protect Polio Workers

Request comes as authorities say a Taliban ban on vaccinations in 2012 and deadly attacks on anti-polio teams have prevented thousands of children from getting inoculated More

This forum has been closed.
Comments
     
There are no comments in this forum. Be first and add one

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
Google Buys Drone Companyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X
George Putic
April 15, 2014
In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Google Buys Drone Company

In its latest purchase of high-tech companies, Google has acquired a manufacturer of solar-powered drones that can stay in the air almost indefinitely, relaying broadband Internet connection to remote areas. It is seen as yet another step in the U.S. based Web giant’s bid to bring Internet to the whole world. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Ray Bonneville Sings the Blues and More on New CD

Singer/songwriter Ray Bonneville has released a new CD called “Easy Gone” with music that reflects his musical and personal journey from French-speaking Canada to his current home in Austin,Texas. The eclectic artist’s fan base extends from Texas to various parts of North America and Europe. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Austin.
Video

Video Millions Labor in Pakistan's Informal Economy

The World Bank says that in Pakistan, roughly 70 percent work in the so-called informal sector, a part of the economy that is unregulated and untaxed. VOA's Sharon Behn reports from Islamabad on how the informal sector impact's the Pakistani economy.
Video

Video Passover Celebrates Liberation from Bondage

Jewish people around the world are celebrating Passover, a commemoration of their liberation from slavery in Egypt more than 3,300 years ago. According to scripture, God helped the Jews, led by Moses, escape bondage in Egypt and cross the Red Sea into the desert. Zlatica Hoke reports that the story of the Jewish Exodus resonates with other people trying to escape slave-like conditions.
Video

Video Police Pursue Hate Crime Charges Against Kansas Shooting Suspect

Prosecutors are sifting through the evidence in the wake of Sunday’s shootings in a suburb of Kansas City, Missouri that left three people dead. A suspect in the shootings taken into custody is a white supremacist. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, he was well-known to law enforcement agencies and human rights groups alike.
Video

Video In Eastern Ukraine, Pro-unity Activists Emerge from Shadows

Amid the pro-Russian uprisings in eastern Ukraine, there is a large body of activists who support Ukrainian unity and reject Russian intervention. Their activities have remained largely underground, but they are preparing to take on their pro-Moscow opponents, as Henry Ridgwell reports from the eastern city of Donetsk.
Video

Video Basket Maker’s Skills Have World Reach

A prestigious craft show in the U.S. capital offers one-of-a-kind creations by more than 120 artists working in a variety of media. As VOA’s Julie Taboh reports from Washington, one artist lucky enough to be selected says sharing her skills with women overseas is just as significant.
Video

Video UN Report Urges Speedier Action to Avoid Climate Disaster

A new United Nations report says the world must switch from fossil fuels to cleaner energy sources to control the effects of climate change. The Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change released the report (Sunday) following a meeting of scientists and government representatives in Berlin. The comprehensive review follows two recent IPCC reports that detail the certainty of climate change, its impacts and in this most recent report what to do about it. VOA’s Rosanne Skirble has the details.
AppleAndroid