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Updated 2013 population figures for the refugee camps on the Thai-Burmese border show that the net population decreased 9,044 or 7.1 percent in 2013. The total population living in the nine camps was 119,156 at the end of December 2013, compared to 128,200 at the end of 2012, according to The Border Consortium (TBC), an NGO that works with refugees and displaced people from Burma.
The largest proportion of departures from the camps, 7,649, consists of refugees leaving for third countries under the UNHCR’s resettlement programme.
“It is important to note that while there was a net population decrease, new refugees are continuing to arrive in the camps; there were 3,300 new asylum seekers arriving in 2013,” said Sally Thompson, executive director of TBC. “In addition, 3,137 children were born in camps in 2013,” Thompson added.
“Changes in population do not mean that there is any less need for protection, food, shelter, and essential services such as education and health care in the camps,” noted Thompson. “There are still 120,000 people living in extremely vulnerable conditions in refugee camps on Thai-Burmese border, and they continue to need protection and humanitarian assistance.”
TBC also notes that there is no indication a large proportion of refugees are returning to Burma. Only 3.4 percent of the December 2012 camp population returned to Burma, versus 6 percent who were resettled to third countries.
“These figures show us that refugees are not leaving the camps and retuning to Burma en masse,” said Thompson. “It appears that the majority of those returning are going back on a ‘look and see’ basis.”
TBC’s data shows that of the 4,389 people who did leave the camps to return to Burma, 70 percent of all departures include just one or two people from a household, while the rest of the household remains in the camps.
“TBC agrees with UNHCR, the Government of the Union of Myanmar, the Royal Thai Government, and many international partners that conditions do not yet exist for the organised return of refugees,” the report said.
An additional 3,348 refugees left the camps in 2013 to seek work in the migrant community, TBC reported.