A long-awaited homecoming
More than 70 refugees, some of whom had lived in Thai border camps for more than 30 years, returned to Myanmar this week in the first organised repatriation involving the two countries’ governments.
THE celebrated repatriation of dozens of refugees to Myanmar was not without a hiccup this week as 25 of the 96 individuals in Thailand who were expected to return backed out last minute, according to the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement.
Six Myanmar nationals from the Tham Hin refugee camp in Thailand’s Ratchaburi province returned through the Htee Khee border gate in Tanintharyi Region on October 25, and 65 refugees of the Nu Po camp in Tak province returned through the Myawady border gate yesterday.
U Win Htut Oo, deputy director general of the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement, confirmed that the Thai government had transferred only 65 refugees yesterday, with the others having changed their minds about returning to Myanmar at this time.
“I don’t know why they don’t want to come back to Myanmar,” he told The Myanmar Times.
Initially, the Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement announced that the Myanmar and Thai governments had agreed to send back 96 refugees and had prepared accommodation and other provisions for the returnees.
Yesterday the ministry’s director general U Ko Ko Naing said the government had arranged to give K300,000 (US$243) to each returning family and other support in the form of food supplies.
The government has also worked with the Department of Progress of the Border Areas and National Races Development (Na Ta La) in Myawady township, which has arranged housing for some of the returnees.
Thailand’s foreign ministry released a statement yesterday saying the returnees had been living in Thailand since 1984. The ministry pledged to cooperate with the Myanmar government via the Joint Working Group (JWG) on the Return of the Displaced Persons from Myanmar, which is chaired by the permanent secretaries of both countries’ foreign affairs ministries, to return more refugees in the coming years.
“Positive political development and the peace process in Myanmar in recent years played a significant role in encouraging the displaced persons to voluntarily return to their homeland. Thailand and Myanmar thus have been working closely since to make the return successful,” said the statement.
The Myanmar Times phoned the Myanmar Ministry of Foreign Affairs’ five designated spokespersons but was unable to get comment.
According to the Karen Refugee Committee, there are 120,000 Myanmar refugees living in nine camps along the Thai border. The Thai foreign ministry put the number at 103,000.
Although the refugees’ repatriation this week was voluntary, some groups advocating on behalf of the Karen – the largest ethnic group living in the camps – have objected to their return, concerned that the Myanmar government is not ready to help them with livelihood and food support.
Naw Eh Thaw, coordinator for the Karen Human Rights Group, said the government should first work to consolidate the nationwide ceasefire agreement before working to return refugees.
“The refugees shouldn’t come back in this situation because fighting is happening sometimes and the government has not yet finished clearing landmines,” she told The Myanmar Times.
As recently as last month, the Tatmadaw and a Karen splinter group clashed several times in Kayin State’s Hlaingbwe township, which borders Thailand’s Tak province.
A bus transporting returning refugees arrives yesterday at the Friendship Bridge in Mae Sot, Thailand, en route to Myawady, Kayin State.
A Thai army soldier directs returnees from the Nu Po refugee camp onto a bus in Mae Sot yesterday.