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Surapong Kongchantuk, vice chairman of the Thai National Human Rights Commission’s sub-committee on ethnic minorities, the stateless, migrant workers and displaced persons, has said now is not yet the right time to repatriate refugees from Burma.
Kongchantuk was responding to a remark recently made by the governor of Thailand’s Tak province Samart Loifah. He had issued an order for refugee camps situated along the border in the region to make lists of their population to pre-empt a send back to Burma.
Kongchantuk however told DVB that we have yet to see tangible improvements;
“We sent a list of procedures for the concerned [Thai] government departments regarding the repatriation – that it should be voluntary and that their native country must be in a ready-state to accept them back,” Kongchantuk said.
“To decide whether the native country is ready or not should not be based on claims by the [Burmese government] alone but also needs to be inspected and approved by a UN organisation such as the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). So far, the UNHCR is yet to make any inspection about the real situation,” he added.
“This is not a case between just two countries but also concerns the international community. The Tak governor’s decision is irrelevantly premature and is causing a panic among the refugees.”
Samart Loifa made the orders after President Thein Sein’s remark on 17 August, that Burmese nationals living abroad in exile were allowed to go back to their home country.
He told the media that he was happy for Burmese refugees, who were forced to flee their homes, that they were allowed to go back to Burma and expressed a belief that this would bring peace to the Thai-Burma border region.
Saw Po Dan, chairman of Nupo refugee camp however said they had not received any order from Loifa as yet;
“There is no official order yet. [Loifa] came around our camp a couple of times in the past but he didn’t come in [the camp] – he just hung around outside and talked with camp officials. There was no clear order as yet,” said Saw Po Dan.
There are nearly 150,000 refugees living in nine refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border. Whilst commentators have welcomed what appears to be a relative softening of rhetoric from Naypyidaw, others have responded to invitations back and supposed offers of dialogue with some scepticism.
Far from a decrease in violence in the ethnic areas of Burma the past year has seen an escalation in fighting as the Burmese military has pursued greater incursions into Shan, Karen and Kachin areas.
The last of which has seen around 10,000 people internally displaced and the World Food Program commence delivering food aid to over 3,000 vulnerable people near Kachin state’s capital, Myitkina last week.