Refugees from Burma residing in Thai border camps are concerned about the lack of transparency and proper procedures by Thai authorities regarding repatriation, in light of a recent census poll being conducted in the camps.
According to Saw Honest, chairperson of the Mae La – the largest refugee camp along the Thai-Burmese border – Thai officials began conducting a population census on 18 July, and have been issuing three different types of identification cards to the refugees.
“We asked the officials to give us a precise answer about the poll’s outcome but they won’t tell us anything except that they are re-verifying the refugee population,” Saw Honest said. “They are issuing green-coloured cards for refugees with UNHCR [UN Refugee Agency] serial numbers that start with 020, 021 and 026; and light-green coloured cards for numbers 70 and 71.”
“Those without UNHCR registration are issued red-coloured cards,” he said, adding that the officials also took photographs of householder lists of refugee families and all their UNHCR documentation but did not explain these actions.
Refugees in Umpiem camp, another border camp, have also reported receiving light-green coloured cards, which were then changed to white-coloured cards. This inconsistent procedure and the lack of clarity behind the Thai officials’ actions are fuelling worries among the refugees that they will be deported back to Burma against their will.
“We are worried we might get deported in about a year’s time as the officials are not providing any explanation about the census,” Naw Baw Nya, a refugee residing in Umpiem camp, said.
Another refugee, Naw Khoo Htwe, said that he does not wish to return to Burma anytime soon as there is no guarantee for his security.
There are more than 130,000 refugees from Burma living in nine camps along the Thai-Burmese border. Displaced from their home states due to conflict between ethnic armed groups and the Burmese Army, some of the refugees have lived in the camps for almost 30 years.