Karen refugees leave Thai camp

Nearly 300 Karen refugees in a makeshift camp in western Thailand have left due to difficult living conditions, according to a camp official.

The number of people who have left the Nong Bua camp in Thailand’s Tha Song Yang district is more than half of the total camp population. The refugees arrived there after fleeing fighting between Burmese troops and the opposition Karen National Liberation Army (KNLA) in June last year.

“It was too hot for them to live under the tarpaulin sheets and the water supply was insufficient,” said the official. “It is difficult for the refugees to find jobs outside [the camp] so they finally decided to leave and find work.”

He added that the remaining families in the camp are also likely to make their departure before end of this month.

The remaining families have requested for three months’ worth of food rations from the aid group Thailand Burma Border Consortium (TBBC) and will be ready to leave the camp when they get it, said one refugee.

“However, we’re not sure if many of us will be left here by the time we get the aid from TBBC,” he said.

Sally Thompson, deputy director of TBBC, said that a number of refugees had come forward to say they wished to return to Karen state in eastern Burma, and that the UN refugee agency was to interview them.

“The interview is to determine whether they are willing to return, and are not being pushed back,” she said.

In February a furore erupted after the Thai army suggested it would force a number of Karen back into Burma, although the repatriation has been suspended.

“We will only provide them with food to take back on the condition that UNHCR has access to them beforehand to conduct interviews to ensure they are willing to return,” Thompson added.

Nearly 40 British MPs on Wednesday called on the Thai government to stop pressuring the Karen refugees to return to Burma.

They alleged that any forced repatriation would be inhumane and illegal under international law, and would be effectively sending them to their death as the border area remains littered with landmines.

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