Thai security officials are meeting this week in Mae Sot to discuss how refugees from Burma living in camps by the Thai-Burmese border can be repatriated.
Organised by the Royal Thai Army’s Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC), the three-day event was attended by representatives of the UNHCR and regional military commanders of four border provinces where refugee camps are located.
Col. Trasan Saengsiriran, an ISOC official and chief-of-staff of the Royal Thai Army’s Naresuan Taskforce, said that the meeting will include a discussion about means of assisting refugees who have been living in Thailand for almost three decades.
Officials are expected to come to a decision by Thursday as to whether the refugees will be repatriated in the near future — a prospect that NGOs working to assist refugees say could be likely as this meeting was urgently convened.
Thailand is not a signatory of the UN Convention on the Rights and Status of Refugees, but has allowed the camps to operate within the country’s borders for decades. More than 60,000 refugees from Burma have been resettled in third countries with assistance from the UNHCR in Thailand.
Resettlement options have been reduced considerably since Burma’s reform period began in 2011; the United States, which has accepted more refugees from Burma than any other country by far, officially ended its resettlement programme in January of this year.
Currently, there are about 120,000 refugees living in Thailand’s nine refugee camps in the four western border provinces. Decades of systemic violence and disenfranchisement of Burma’s ethnic minorities, as well as conflict between ethnic armed groups and the Burmese military, have driven hundreds of thousands of people to neighbouring countries, including Thailand, China, Indonesia and Malaysia.