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July 1, 2009 (DVB), The UN's refugee agency announced yesterday that it had resettled the 50,000th Burmese refugee from Thailand's nine border refugee camps as part of the world's largest refugee resettlement programme.
Currently there are around 112,000 registered Burmese refugees in Thai border camps. Added to the many that are not registered, the figure nears 140,000.
The ongoing conflict in Burma's western Karen state, which borders Thailand, has forced another 4000 refugees into Thailand in the last month, although few of these have ended up in camps.
The UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) has been operating the programme since 2004, with the number of resettlements rising dramatically in 2005 when the US opened its doors to refugees from the camps.
UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler said yesterday that resettlement in a third country had become the only viable option for Burmese refugees in Thailand's camps, given problems settling permanently in Thailand and the dangers of returning to Burma.
"So for them, resettlement in a third country is the best option," he said.
"For this reason we are very grateful to countries like the United States, Canada, Australia, Finland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway and Sweden for offering refugees a chance to begin new lives."
The UNHCR expects to resettle another 6000 to 7000 refugees from the camps over the coming year.
Thailand is home to around 3.5 million stateless persons, the vast majority of which are thought to be Burmese. Cambodia and Laos also contribute significant numbers.
The total number of stateless Burmese living abroad is unknown, although inside the country there are around 500,000 internally displaced persons, and around 700,000 stateless persons denied citizenship by the Burmese government.
Reporting by Francis Wade