A group of refugees has left the Mae Ra Ma Luang camp on the Thai-Burmese border to return to Karen State, saying conditions in the camp had become intolerable.
Saw Khee Doh, the leader of the 69 returnees, said they decided to leave the camp of their own volition due to a shortage of resources and education opportunities.
“We left Ward-7 (B) of the camp. I first arrived there in August 2003, but this year we decided to come home to Burma as we can no longer endure the various difficulties there,” Saw Khee Doh said.
Since their arrival in the state capital Hpa-an on 24 March, the group has been sheltering at a local church under the administration of local authorities.
Saw Khee Doh said the group would happily resettle anywhere that had adequate security and could assist them in establishing themselves in the new community.
“We’re happy as long as there is security and assistance. But we will also need access to schools as there are many orphaned children in our group,” he said.
According to Saw Khee Doh, there are 39 children among the refugees, ranging from kindergarten students to 10th graders.
Financial support from international donors to refugee camps along the border has slowly dried up in recent years, as backers increasingly focus on projects inside Burma as the country opens up after decades of isolation.
Despite a general improvement in the political climate in Burma, however, the situation in border areas remains uncertain, with the ongoing threat of conflict making most refugees unwilling to return despite deteriorating conditions in the camps.
Last week, the United Nations refugee agency UNHCR issued a call to Burma’s incoming government, to be led by the National League for Democracy, to resume talks with Thailand and the UNHCR aimed at closing the border-based camps.