Karen refugees may soon begin to return home

Karen refugees may soon begin to return home

Thousand of refugees in Thailand could soon begin to return home as regional authorities initiate resettlement proceedings in Karen state, according to local officials.

Government authorities in Karen state’s Myawaddy border district travelled to territory held by the Democratic Karen Benevolent Army [DKBA] this week to identify possible resettlement locations for Thailand-based refugees.

Saw Gon Aung, secretary of the Klohtoobaw Karen Organisation (KKO), the political wing of the DKBA, told DVB that he met with local officials, including District Administrator Myint Tin, at the group’s headquarters in Sonesemyaing to discuss the issue.

“They were here [to discuss] the resettlement of people who are in refugee camps in Thailand,” he explained. “We discussed the regions Wawlay and Chukaleet.”

“But this is outside of our jurisdiction – the Burmese government has to talk with everyone first; the Karen National Union, the Karen Refugee Committee and the NGOs providing assistance to the refugees, as well as the Thai authorities and UNHCR [UN refugee agency] officials.”

“We explained to them that the most important thing is to ensure the refugees themselves feel safe about coming back and are willing to do so.”

Saw Htun Htun, director of Mae La refugee camp on the Thai border, said that none of the refugee organisations in Thailand will encourage refugees to return before there is genuine political reconciliation in Burma.

“We can only go back when there is peace and no more fighting in the border regions. We will only start planning repatriation when we believe there is a possibility of achieving genuine reconciliation,” said Saw Htun Htun.

According to Thai-Burma Border Consortium, an NGO assisting refugees at the Thai-Burmese border, there are around 150,000 Burmese refugees in Thailand. Many of them have lived there for generations.

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