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.
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

Turkey's Controversial Reform Bill Giving Investors Jitters

Homeland security reform bill will give police new powers in search, seizure, detention and arrests, while restricting the rights of suspects, their attorneys More

Audio Slideshow In Kenyan Prison, Good Grades Are Path to Freedom

Some inmates who get high marks could see their sentences commuted to non-custodial status More

'Rumble in the Jungle' Turns 40

'The Champ' knocked Foreman out to regain crown he had lost 7 years earlier when US government accused him of draft-dodging and boxing officials revoked his license 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.
Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisiai
X
Henry Ridgwell
October 30, 2014 11:39 PM
Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Victorious Secularists Face Challenge to Form Government in Tunisia

Official results from Tunisia show the Islamist Ennahda party has failed to win the second free election since the so-called "Arab Spring" uprising in 2011. Ennahda, which handed power to a government of technocrats pending the elections, lost out to the secular party Nidaa Tounes. Henry Ridgwell reports from London that the relatively peaceful poll offers some hope in a volatile region.
Video

Video Africa Tells its Story Through Fashion

In Africa, Fashion Week is a riot of colors, shapes, patterns and fabrics - against the backdrop of its ongoing struggle between nature and its fast-growing urban edge. How do these ideas translate into needle and thread? VOA’s Anita Powell visited this year’s Mercedes Benz Fashion Week Africa in Johannesburg to find out.
Video

Video Smugglers Offer Cheap Passage From Turkey to Syria

Smugglers in Turkey offer a relatively cheap passage across the border into Syria. Ankara has stepped up efforts to stem the flow of foreign fighters who want to join Islamic State militants fighting for control of the Syrian border city of Kobani. But porous borders and border guards who can be bribed make illegal border crossings quite easy. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video China Political Meeting Seeks to Improve Rule of Law

China’s communist leaders will host a top level political meeting this week, called the Fourth Plenum, and for the first time in the party’s history, rule of law will be a key item on the agenda. Analysts and Chinese media reports say the meetings could see the approval of long-awaited measures aimed at giving courts more independence and include steps to enhance an already aggressive and high-reaching anti-corruption drive. VOA’s Bill Ide has more from Beijing.
Video

Video After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rules

European Union finance ministers have reached a breakthrough agreement that will make it more difficult for tax cheats to hide their money. The new legislation, which had been blocked for years by countries with a reputation as tax havens, was approved last week after Luxembourg and Austria agreed to lift their vetoes. But as Mil Arcega reports, it doesn’t mean tax cheats have run out of places to keep their money hidden.
Video

Video Kobani Refugees Welcome, Turkey Criticizes, US Airdrop

Residents of Kobani in northern Syria have welcomed the airdrop of weapons, ammunition and medicine to Kurdish militia who are resisting the seizure of their city by Islamic State militants. The Turkish government, however, has criticized the operation. VOA’s Scott Bobb reports from southeastern Turkey, across the border from Kobani.

All About America

AppleAndroid