Refugees hit hous­ing snag

Nearly 20 refugees repa­tri­ated from Thai­land last week say they have made a “mis­take” in com­ing home af­ter they were in­formed that the gov­ern­ment has not paid for their long-term ac­com­mo­da­tion.

The Myanmar Times - - Front Page - Yeemon­tun@mm­times.com YE MON

MYAN­MAR refugees repa­tri­ated from Thai­land last week say they al­ready have re­grets about their re­turn fol­low­ing a dis­agree­ment with the gov­ern­ment over the cost of their liv­ing quar­ters.

Last week the gov­ern­ment over­saw the repa­tri­a­tion of 71 refugees from Thai border camps in the first of­fi­cial trans­fer or­gan­ised by the two neigh­bour­ing coun­tries since the mostly Karenni civil­ians be­gan flee­ing armed con­flict in the 1990s.

But the 17 refugees who were sent to Yan­gon told The Myan­mar Times yes­ter­day that their home­com­ing has not been a happy one so far.

The re­gional gov­ern­ment has ar­ranged hous­ing for the 17, as promised, but has told the four fam­i­lies they will have to pur­chase units in a low-cost apart­ment com­plex on the out­skirts of the com­mer­cial cap­i­tal.

Daw Khin San Yi, 59, a for­mer po­lit­i­cal pris­oner and refugee who re­turned from Nu Po camp in Tak prov­ince, told The Myan­mar Times that the re­gional gov­ern­ment must re-eval­u­ate the refugees’ hous­ing sit­u­a­tion.

“We lived with dif­fi­cul­ties in Thai­land. We are not rich peo­ple and we have no money to pay for low-cost hous­ing. I don’t un­der­stand why the gov­ern­ment ar­ranged that,” she said.

She added that she and her hus­band had been shel­ter­ing at the Nu Po camp since 2010. They agreed to re­turn to Myan­mar only af­ter they heard that the Na­tional League for Democ­racy-led gov­ern­ment would fully sup­port their repa­tri­a­tion.

“We chose to re­turn to Myan­mar but I think we made a mis­take. I thought the gov­ern­ment had al­ready ar­ranged our ac­com­mo­da­tion,” she said.

The 17 refugees in Yan­gon ar­rived on Oc­to­ber 27 and were pro­vided tem­po­rary hous­ing at a shel­ter in Mayan­gone town­ship op­er­ated by the Min­istry of So­cial Wel­fare, Re­lief and Re­set­tle­ment. They have been given a K3000 (US$2.33) daily stipend for liv­ing ex­penses.

Ac­cord­ing to the refugees, be­fore they left Thai­land the Thai gov­ern­ment pro­vided 8300 baht (US$238) per adult and 6500 baht per child. The Myan­mar gov­ern­ment of­fered K300,000 for each fam­ily unit. Each fam­ily also re­ceived K100,000 from the Myan­mar Red Cross and K200,000 from Rakhine Eth­nic Af­fairs Min­is­ter U Zaw Aye Maung.

But for their long-term ac­com­mo­da­tion, the re­gional gov­ern­ment told the 17 refugees that hous­ing was ar­ranged at Shwe Linn Ban in­dus­trial zone in Hlaing Thar­yar town­ship, with each fam­ily re­quired to buy their apart­ment at K9.8 mil­lion, payable in in­stal­ments over eight years.

“I think the refugees will need to have some­thing else worked out for their ac­com­mo­da­tion. They re­fused to buy the low-cost hous­ing. I don’t know what the gov­ern­ment should do for them,” said U Soe Aung, per­ma­nent sec­re­tary of the Min­istry of So­cial Wel­fare, Re­lief and Re­set­tle­ment.

Be­fore the repa­tri­a­tion pro­gram be­gan, Min­istry of So­cial Wel­fare, Re­lief and Re­set­tle­ment di­rec­tor gen­eral U Ko Ko Naing said the gov­ern­ment was pre­pared to ac­com­mo­date the re­turn­ing refugees, who were driven out of Myan­mar by con­flict years ago. He said some would be stay­ing at hous­ing built by the the Depart­ment of Progress of Border Af­fairs and Na­tional Races (Na Ta La) in Myawady town­ship, while oth­ers would re­turn to their fam­ily homes if they pre­ferred.

But the refugees said they were de­nied the op­tion to stay at the Na Ta La hous­ing.

Ko Nyan Myint, 42, who was also repa­tri­ated from the Nu Po camp, said of­fi­cials told the refugees that only “con­flict-af­fected peo­ple” could stay in the Na Ta La hous­ing, a des­ig­na­tion which ap­par­ently did not in­clude the four Yan­gon fam­i­lies.

“Other refugees who are still liv­ing in Thai­land shouldn’t re­turn to our coun­try. We made a mis­take com­ing back and we don’t want any other refugees to make the same mis­take,” he told The Myan­mar Times.

Karen hu­man rights groups had ar­gued that the repa­tri­a­tion process was moving too quickly and should not be pushed un­til all details were fi­nalised and the se­cu­rity of those re­turn­ing could be guar­an­teed.

The hous­ing prob­lem is not the first snag in the process: The cel­e­brated re­turn last week was slightly damp­ened by the fact that 25 of the 96 in­di­vid­u­als slated to re­turn backed out of the ar­range­ment at the 11th hour.

U Ko Ko Naing, di­rec­tor gen­eral of the so­cial wel­fare min­istry’s res­cue depart­ment, blamed the re­gional gov­ern­ment for the hous­ing snafu.

“I heard that the [Yan­gon] Re­gion gov­ern­ment will ne­go­ti­ate with the refugees for their ac­com­mo­da­tion,” he said, adding that some of the refugees had fled for per­sonal, po­lit­i­cal or busi­ness rea­sons that were not due to con­flict, which made them in­el­i­gi­ble for the Na Ta La hous­ing.

“We didn’t meet with these refugees be­fore their repa­tri­a­tion,” he ad­mit­ted.

An­other of the re­turned Yan­gon refugees, Daw Khin Oh­mar Hlaing, 35, said the gov­ern­ment should not call any more home from the camps if they are not pre­pared to help them get set­tled.

“I de­cided to re­turn for med­i­cal treat­ment on my leg and so that my two chil­dren could be ed­u­cated here. But I can­not start any­thing like that yet,” she said.

Ac­cord­ing to the Karen Hu­man Rights Group, there are nine refugee camps on the border in Thai­land, hous­ing ap­prox­i­mately 120,000 Myan­mar na­tion­als.

Photo: Aung Htay Hlaing

Refugees who were repa­tri­ated from the Thai border last week sit at a tem­po­rary shel­ter in Yan­gon yes­ter­day.

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