Sanctuary eludes ex-political prisoners

Former Burmese political prisoners who have fled their country are struggling to access UN or Thai “avenues for protection” and are confined to a life in limbo away from their homes, a letter sent to the European Commission (EC) today warns.

Signed by Ex-PPACT, a group of former political prisoners who fled to Thailand and which offers counselling and advocacy work on behalf of new arrivals, the letter urged the EC to develop a better safety net for a community it claims suffer deep psychological trauma as a result of their time in prison and the insecurity of their new lives in the Thai border town of Mae Sot.

“Despite our well-founded fear of persecution, we have been unable to access UNHCR or Thai avenues for protection because of variety of reason related to Thai government policies,” it said, referring to the UN’s refugee agency.

“We live in constant fear of deportation and suffer from the psychological after-effects of torture and extended imprisonment in harsh condition.”

It also warned Commissioner Kristalina Georgieva, who last week visited Burmese refugees in Thai camps, that Thai authorities were “always looking…to find the best and quickest way of how to repatriate Burmese migrants” following Thailand’s warming relations with the so-called new Burmese government.

Aye Min Soe, a co-founder of Ex-PPACT, spent more than four years in incarcerated in Burma, having first been imprisoned following the 1988 uprising. He has lived in Mae Sot since he fled Burma in December 2008, but in that time has not been able to leave the small border town.

“It’s like I’m staying in another prison,” he told DVB. “There are a lot of army checkpoints and so I cannot move around outside of one kilometre from the town. I don’t have a chance to get a job and there is no form of education for our children; also there is no healthcare system for us.”

He said that the group of around 20 former political prisoners were unlikely to be admitted to the refugee camps, which predominantly house victims of the decades-long civil war in Karen state.

“We are worrying day by day about our situation and about getting arrested by police – it’s a kind of psychological torture,” said Aye Min Soe. “We are hopeless. In Burma when we were in prison we knew the official release date, even if it was 10 years ahead; here we don’t know the release date.”

Nearly 2,200 political prisoners are behind bars in Burma, some serving sentences of more than 100 years. Apart from groups like Ex-PPACT and the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners–Burma (AAPP), there is little to support those who flee to Thailand after their release.

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