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UNHCR Concerned About Thai Repatriation of Myanmar Refugees

FILE - A group of Myanmar refugees are seen on a truck in Mae Sot, Thailand.

The U.N. refugee agency says the situation inside Myanmar, also known as Burma, is not ready for the return of refugees from long-time camps inside Thailand.

In a written response to questions from VOA's Burmese service, UNHCR Myanmar Representative Akahi Ito says the absence of a permanent cease-fire, the presence of landmines and a lack of critical infrastructure in some areas are among the reasons why the time is not right.

Ito added the UNHCR is ready to support an eventual voluntary return, but only when the refugees themselves decide to do so in an informed and voluntary way.

His comments echo concerns expressed this week by human rights groups.

Thailand's military junta has said it intends to send back up to 130,000 refugees from Myanmar.

General Prayuth Chan-ocha this week said his government had reached an agreement with Myanmar to conduct a joint effort in the repatriation of tens of thousands of refugees living along the border.

He said the two countries would facilitate the "safe return" of the refugees in accordance with human rights standards.

Tens of thousands have fled conflict inside Myanmar in recent decades. Many ended up inside Thailand at refugee camps, which still house more than 100,000 people.

This report was produced in collaboration with VOA’s Burmese Service.