Landmines and food crisis await Karen refugees

Feb 3, 2010 (DVB), Around 3000 refugees who fled conflict in Burma last year have been told by Thai authorities that they must return to Karen state, despite dire warnings of conditions there.

In an urgent appeal to the Thai government, the Karen Women's Organisation (KWO) said that the refugees, the majority of whom are women and children, face the fallout from the Karen army's ongoing conflict with the Burmese government.

The refugees must leave by 15 February, according to the Thai government who will begin the repatriation on 5 February.

"The area [of return] is a landmine zone; there is no one taking responsibility to clear those landmines to ensure security," said KWO's Blooming Night Zen.

"This will be life threatening for the refugees. Also there is a shortage of food and we don't know how long [NGOs] can provide food aid for them."

She said that the KWO were appealing to Thai authorities to suspend the repatriation on humanitarian grounds, and added that five Karen refugees who have already returned became the victims of landmines.

"Two of them died and three others were injured. One of them, a 13-year-old boy had his leg blown up in September last year," she said.

A Karen refugee in Thailand's Nupo camp said he would rather not leave Thailand but had no other choice following heavy pressure from the Thai government.

"Thirty families including mine are to go back on the 5 February. By 15 February, all of us will be gone from this camp," he said. "This is not voluntary; we are given no choice but to leave. I don't know if I will make it home alive."

There are currently 167 Karen refugee families in Nupo and all of them are to leave the camp by February 15.

Last week, the Human Rights Commission of the Thai parliament insisted that the refugees should be provided with shelter in nearby refugee camps instead of being sent home, and cited the fragile security situation in Burma.

Reporting by Naw Noreen

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