Ninety residents of the Nu Po refugee camp in Thailand’s Tak Province are set to return to Burma next week in the first round of official repatriations for refugees since a peace deal was struck late last year.
Saw Keh Waw, the chairman of the Nu Po refugee camp committee, said 90 refugees who previously signed up for repatriation will be transported by the Thai authorities to the border town of Mae Sot on 25 October.
From there, he said, they will cross the border to Myawaddy in Karen State, where Burmese officials have arranged accommodation for them.
“The Burmese and Thai governments coordinated the repatriation. Burmese government officials in September came to interview would-be returnees in the camp for the programme and issued them travel documents. Thailand authorities pledged to provide them transportation to Mae Sot,” said Saw Keh Waw.
Upon arriving in Karen State, the returnees will be provided temporary accommodation in Myawaddy before being resettled in new locations, he added.
Hundreds of thousands of ethnic people in eastern Burma have been forced to flee their homes over the past three decades amid armed conflict between the Burmese army and various ethnic rebel groups. Many subsequently left for third countries under resettlement programmes.
This is the first time that the Thai and Burmese governments have been directly involved in the repatriation of refugees. Earlier this year, however, hundreds of families were resettled in a model village set up by the Karen National Union (KNU), one of the signatories of last year’s Nationwide Ceasefire Agreement.
Construction of Lay Kay Kaw, located about 15 km south of Myawaddy, began in February 2015. As of May, it had 200 low-cost houses, with an additional 200 expected to be completed before the end of the year.
Most of the current inhabitants are family members of KNU personnel or internally displaced persons.
Currently, there are over 100,000 people remaining in nine refugee camps in western Thailand’s Tak, Kanchanaburi, Ratchaburi and Mae Hong Song provinces along the Burmese border.