Thailand’s authorities have banned Burmese refugees living on the Thai-Burmese border from leaving their camps, while they conduct a census to determine the exact number of refugees living in the country. There are nine refugee camps along the border and aid agencies say they provide relief to no less than 120,000 people.
Saw Honest, leader of Mae La, the biggest refugee camp in Thailand, said authorities have strictly warned its residents not to leave the camp and said they would punish those who do.
Anyone found in violation of the travel ban may face a series of punishments ranging from a week of labour or ration cuts to having their refugee status revoked, he said.
Residents who are staying outside their camps, including students and those working in nearby towns, have been ordered to return for the population count.
On Tuesday, a team of military officials and police officers began the census in the Umpiem refugee camp, which lies 90 kilometres south of Mae Sot.
“Officials have begun work to verify the number of people living in the Umpiem camp,” said camp chairman Saw Wahtee. “They came there at around 7am on Tuesday and gathered residents in one area together. Then they issued some papers to each person and told them to walk through a gate to another zone.”
Saw Wahtee told DVB the official count found 12,401 people living in Umpiem camp.
“The Thai authorities said they just wanted to know the exact number of refugees in the country,” he said.
Recently, donor funding to the refugees has been cut and resettlement programmes terminated.
In June, a meeting was held in Mae Sot between the Thai army’s Internal Security Operations Command, regional commanders of border provinces, and NGOs that provide assistance to the refugees, to discuss whether it is time to begin preparing for the refugees to be repatriated.
No official decision was made.