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, Steve Herman is VOA's Southeast Asia Bureau Chief and Correspondent, based in Bangkok.

You May Like

Katrina Brought Enduring Changes to New Orleans

The city’s recovery is the result of the people and culture the city is famous for, as well as newcomers and start-up industries More

China to Open Stock Markets to Pension Funds

In unprecedented move, government to soon allow local pension funds to invest up to $94 billion in domestic shares More

1 Billion People Used Facebook on Single Day

Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg praised the accomplishment in a posting on the social media site 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.
Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalatesi
X
August 27, 2015 2:08 AM
Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Colombians Flee Venezuela as Border Crisis Escalates

Hundreds of Colombians have fled Venezuela since last week, amid an escalating border crisis between the two countries. Last week, Venezuelan President Nicolas Maduro ordered the closure of a key border crossing after smugglers injured three Venezuelan soldiers and a civilian. The president also ordered the deportation of Colombians who are in Venezuela illegally. Zlatica Hoke reports.
Video

Video Is China's Economic Data Accurate?

Some investors say China's wild stock market gyrations have been made worse by worries about the reliability of that nation's economic data. And some critics say the reports can mislead investors by painting an unrealistically-strong picture of the economy. A key China scholar says Beijing is not fudging ((manipulating)) the numbers, but that the economy is evolving quickly from smoke-stack industries to services, and the ways of tracking new economic activity are falling behind the change. V
Video

Video Next to Iran, Climate at Forefront of Obama Agenda

President Barack Obama this week announced new initiatives aimed at making it easier for Americans to access renewable energy sources such as solar and wind. Obama is not slowing down when it comes to pushing through climate change measures, an issue he says is the greatest threat to the country’s national security. VOA correspondent Aru Pande has more from the White House.
Video

Video Shipping Containers Provide Experimental Housing

Housing prices around the San Francisco Bay area are out of reach for many people, so some young entrepreneurs, artists and tech industry workers are creating their own houses using converted shipping containers. But as VOA's Mike O’Sullivan reports from Oakland, the effort requires ingenuity and dealing with restrictive local laws.
Video

Video Arctic Draws International Competition for Oil

A new geopolitical “Great Game” is underway in earth’s northernmost region, the Arctic, where Russia has claimed a large area for resource development and President Barack Obama recently approved Shell Oil Company’s test-drilling project in an area under U.S. control. Greg Flakus reports.
Video

Video Philippine Maritime Police: Chinese Fishermen a Threat to Country’s Security

China and the Philippines both claim maritime rights in the South China Sea.  That includes the right to fish in those waters. Jason Strother reports on how the Philippines is catching Chinese nationals it says are illegal poachers. He has the story from Palawan province.
Video

Video Technique May Eliminate Drill-and-Fill Dental Care

Many people dread visiting dentists because they're afraid of drills. Now, however, a technology developed by a British firm promises to eliminate the need for mechanical cleaning of dental cavities by speeding a natural process of tooth repair. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video China's Spratly Island Building Said to Light Up the Night 'Like A City'

Southeast Asian countries claim China has illegally seized territory in the Spratly islands. It is especially a concern for a Philippine mayor who says Beijing is occupying parts of his municipality. Jason Strother reports from the capital of Palawan province, Puerto Princesa.
Video

Video Ages-old Ice Reveals Secrets of Climate Change

Ice caps don't just exist at the world's poles. There are also tropical ice caps, and the largest sits atop the Peruvian Andes - but it is melting, quickly, and may be gone within the next 20 years. George Putic reports scientists are now rushing to take samples to get at the valuable information about climate change locked in the ice.
Video

Video French Experiment in Integrating Roma Under Threat

Plans to destroy France’s oldest slum have sparked an outcry on the part of its Roma residents. As Lisa Bryant reports from the Paris suburb of La Courneuve, rights groups argue the community is a fledgling experiment on integrating Roma who are often outcasts in many parts of Europe.
Video

Video Kenyans Turn to Agriculture for Business

Each year Kenyan universities continue to churn out graduates for the job market despite the already existing high rate of unemployment among youth in the country. Some of these young men and women have realized that agriculture can be as rewarding as any other business or job, and they are resorting to agribusiness in large numbers as a way of tackling unemployment. Rael Ombuor reports for VOA.
Video

Video First Women Graduate Elite Army Ranger School

Two women are making history for the U.S. Army by proving they are among the toughest of the tough. VOA's Carla Babb reports from Fort Benning, Georgia as 94 men and those two women rise as graduates of the difficult Ranger school.

VOA Blogs