A five-year-old boy who was sent back to eastern Burma’s Karen state by the Thai military recently has died and his brother seriously injured after triggering an unexploded grenade.
The boy had been staying at the Mae Usu refugee camp in Thailand’s western Tha Song Yang district until he was repatriated to Burma earlier this year.
Nearly all 2,400 Karen refugees in Mae Usu and nearby Nong Bua have since followed suit, despite warnings that conditions in Karen state remain dangerous. Another 600 returned yesterday, leaving the two camps almost empty.
The seven-year-old survivor was yesterday taken to hospital in Thailand’s border town of Mae Sot. Matt Finch from the Karen Human Right Group (KHRG) said that his condition remains critical.
“As far as I know he has not woken up and he is in a critical condition; it’ll be two or three days before the hospital knows whether he’ll live or not,” he said.
The boys had reportedly been playing with the M79 grenade when it exploded near to Mae La Ah Kee village, an area of return for the 2,400 refugees who fled fighting between Burmese troops and the opposition Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) in June last year.
Plans tabled by the Thai military in January to repatriate the refugees back to Burma had been put on hold following warnings of the conditions that returnees faced, but most have now left.
“What [the Thais] have done since then is continue to harass and pressure the refugees in these sites; telling them that they should leave, that they don’t belong in Thailand, and so people have been leaving in groups,” said Finch.
“[The death] is another incident of the type that we have been very worried about; that refugees leaving Thailand and returning to this area of Pa-an district [in Karen state] are incredibly unsafe – the area is very unstable because of things like landmines and unexploded ordinance.”
His claims have been corroborated by a refugee from Mae Usu camp who said that she was asked by the Thai military to sign an agreement promising that she would leave Thailand.
“We didn’t want to sign it but we had to. They also told us to say we were not pressured to leave when asked,” she said, adding that people “we are afraid to walk around” once they returned to Burma.
The UN refugee agency said yesterday that refugees had told them of their plans to return to tend to their crops. But, according to Finch, this would only be part of the reason.
“This may be true in part, but no-one wants to be in that situation. They returned because of harassment by the Thai military.”
Additional reporting by Naw Noreen