Conditions are not in place yet for the organised repatriation of thousands of refugees along the Thai-Burma border, according to a report released Tuesday by The Border Consortium (TBC).
The semi-annual report—detailing programmes, aid, development and preparations for the eventual return of the refugees and conflict-affected persons from Burma—indicated that the situation is not conducive for the “organised return” of the refugees.
Currently, 129,000 refugees are living in camps in Thailand, while there are an estimated 400,000 internally displaced persons in southeast Burma. In addition, there are an estimated 2.5 million migrants from Burma in Thailand, including documented and undocumented workers who should be taken into account when the plan to wind down the camps begins.
Despite the general agreement that conditions are not right, the Bangkok-based TBC, which has been providing humanitarian relief and development assistance to refugees and conflict-affected people from Burma since 1984, remains cautiously optimistic over prospects for a lasting peace, meaningful political reforms and the return of the refugees and others.
The report focused on preparations for the refugees’ return. That involved skills development, employment experience, training, community governance and coping strategies to help them when the time comes for them to go home.
“This period of transition and cautious optimism regarding the prospect of return represents an opportunity to continue building on the work that we have done in order to ensure that refugees not only get the opportunity to return, but that they have an opportunity to contribute to Burma/Burma’s future,” said Sally Thompson, executive director of TBC.
“Investing in conflict-affected peoples, investing in community development, and investing in preparation for return on both sides of the border is central to making sure that ‘return’ isn’t just a logistical exercise of sending people back, but is also a process of ensuring that reintegration is sustainable,” Ms Thompson said.
She said there was currently no timeline for organised return.
“It is important to note that currently, TBC, the refugee community, the Royal Thai Government, the Government of the Republic of the Union of Burma and UNHCR all agree that conditions do not yet exist for an organised return,” Ms Thompson added.
As of June 30, there was a net population increase of 300 people inside the camps. Elections were held for the Karen Refugee Committee with ensured representation for women voters, a secret ballot and the participation of unregistered refugees. Elections for the Karenni Refugee Committee are scheduled for the current reporting period.
On 1 August, TBC opened an office in Rangoon, following an invitation from the Burmese President’s Office.
On the devastating fire at Ban Mae Surin camp in March, the report noted recovery was proceeding well. It said the disaster was met with a coordinated response from the Thai government and NGOs and an outpouring of financial and material support. New houses have been constructed, most community buildings have been completed and services restored. The fire killed 37, injured 200 and left more than 2,300 homeless.
TBC’s 2013 operating budget was set at 1.06 billion baht (US$35 million).