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

Israelis Quietly Expand Enclave in Palestinian District of Jerusalem

Estimated 500 settlers, armed or protected by paramilitary police, live in Silwan among 50,000 Palestinians More

Video US, Iran Face Similar Challenges in Syrian Fight Against IS

Both Washington, Tehran back fighters battling Islamic State militants in Iraq -- but in Syria they support opposing sides in country’s civil war More

China Boosts Efforts to Help Afghan, Regional Stability

Observers say China’s increased regional involvement are due to concerns that Afghan instability and the presence of anti-China militants in Pakistani border areas could fuel Xinjiang troubles 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.
After Decades of Pressure, Luxembourg Drops Bank Secrecy Rulesi
X
October 21, 2014 12:20 AM
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 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.
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 US ‘Death Cafes’ Put Focus on the Finale

In contemporary America, death usually is a topic to be avoided. But the growing “death café” movement encourages people to discuss their fears and desires about their final moments. VOA’s Jerome Socolovsky reports.
Video

Video Ebola Orphanage Opens in Sierra Leone

Sierra Leone's first Ebola orphanage has opened in the Kailahun district. Hundreds of children orphaned since the beginning of the Ebola outbreak face stigma and rejection with nobody to care for them. Adam Bailes reports for VOA about a new interim care center that's aimed at helping the growing number of children affected by Ebola.
Video

Video Young Nairobi Tech Innovator on 'Track' in Security Business

A 24-year-old technology innovator in Nairobi has invented a tracking device that monitors and secures cars. He has also come up with what he claims is the most robust audio-visual surveillance system yet. As Lenny Ruvaga reports from the Kenyan capital, his innovations are offering alternative security solutions.
Video

Video Latinas Converting to Islam for Identity, Structure

Latinos are one of the fastest growing groups in the Muslim religion. According to the Pew Research Center, about 6 percent of American Muslims are Latino. And a little more than half of new converts are female. VOA’s Carolyn Presutti travelled to Miami, Florida -- where two out of every three residents is Hispanic -- to learn more.
Video

Video Exclusive: American Joins Kurds' Anti-IS Fight

The United States and other Western nations have expressed alarm about their citizens joining Islamic State forces in Syria and Iraq. In a rare counterpoint to the phenomenon, an American has taken up arms with the militants' Syrian Kurdish opponents. Elizabeth Arrott has more in this exclusive profile by VOA Kurdish reporter Zana Omer in Ras al Ayn, Syria.
Video

Video South Korea Confronts Violence Within Military Ranks

Every able-bodied South Korean male between 18 and 35 must serve for 21 to 36 months in the country’s armed forces, depending upon the specific branch. For many, service is a rite of passage to manhood. But there are growing concerns that bullying and violence come along with the tradition. Reporter Jason Strother has more from Seoul.
Video

Video North Carolina Emerges as Key Election Battleground

U.S. congressional midterm elections will be held on November 4th and most political analysts give Republicans an excellent chance to win a majority in the U.S. Senate, which Democrats now control. So what are the issues driving voters in this congressional election year? VOA National Correspondent Jim Malone traveled to North Carolina, one of the most politically competitive states in the country, to find out.
Video

Video Comanche People Maintain Pride in Their Heritage

The Comanche (Indian nation) once were called the “Lords of the Plains,” with an empire that included half the land area of current day Texas, large parts of Oklahoma, New Mexico, Kansas and Colorado.The fierceness and battle prowess of these warriors on horseback delayed the settlement of most of West Texas for four decades. VOA’s Greg Flakus reports from Lawton, Oklahoma, that while their warrior days are over, the 15,000 members of the Comanche Nation remain a proud people.
Video

Video Turkey Campus Attacks Raise Islamic Radicalization Fears

Concerns are growing in Turkey of Islamic radicalization at some universities, after clashes between supporters of the jihadist group Islamic State (IS) or ISIS, and those opposed to the extremists. Pro-jihadist literature is on sale openly on the streets of Istanbul. Critics accuse the government of turning a blind eye to radicalism at home, while Kurds accuse the president of supporting IS - a charge strongly denied. Henry Ridgwell reports from London.

All About America

AppleAndroid