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Thousands of Burmese Refugees Return Home from Thailand

  • Lisa Schlein

A boat carrying last batch of Burmese refugees back home cruises on the Moei river in Mae Sot, Thailand, 10 Nov 2010

The United Nations refugee agency (UNHCR) says most of the 15,000 Burmese refugees who fled into Thailand earlier this week, have returned across the border. UNHCR says it is concerned that many may be returning before it is safe for them to do so.

The U.N. refugee agency says sites in northern Thailand's Tak province have been empty since Wednesday and further south in Sanghklaburi all 3,000 refugees were gone by Friday morning.

UNHCR Spokesman Adrian Edwards says the picture that is emerging is not very clear. While many refugees have returned to Burma, also known as Myanmar, he says others are scattered on the Thai side of the border. And, others who had previously gone back to Burma, he says, have crossed back into Thailand because of resumed fighting in some locations.

"It is a confused situation," said Edwards. "And, that is why we are asking for more time to make assessments as to whether it is safe to return. Now, in some areas of that border, towards the North toward Mae Sot, it seems okay for people to be returning. Further south in Sangkhlaburi, we are worried about the situation immediately across the border. People have been returning at a time when you can hear fighting on the other side of the border. It is obviously not a satisfactory situation."

Edwards says the UNHCR is concerned the Thai authorities may be encouraging refugees to return home prematurely. He says field reports Friday morning indicate fighting had re-erupted overnight and there was a potential for further clashes in the Burmese villages of Maekata and Halokani.

He notes this happened after the Royal Thai Army had given the all-clear for the refugees to return home. He says given the confused situation and the risks to safety, the UNHCR is asking the Thai government to give the refugees more time to decide whether they feel safe to go home.