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Myanmar refugees face hardships back home

Publication Date : 01-08-2014


Refugees residing on the Thai side of the border with Myanmar have faced severe hardships upon returning home, with many being forced to return to refugee camps in Thailand.

Saw Lamu was one of them. After living in Ban Don Yang refugee camp in Kanchanaburi’s Sangkhlaburi District, Thailand, he recently returned to his hometown full of hope to resettle there. Unfortunately, he found it difficult to get two necessities – a place to stay and a job.

“I was born in Kayin Shinhtami in Yay Phyu Township,” he said. “The main obstacles to return to my hometown are finding a place to stay and getting a job.  If we don’t have these two, we won’t be able to survive. It would be good if we have a place to stay with some provisions as promised by Myanmar ministers. All the refugees want to go home.”

Saw Lamu and people from his village abandoned their homes due to clashes and took shelter at the camp in Thailand.

Living in the camp is not easy, he said.

“Before, blankets and mosquito nets were handed out. Now, they provide only food. We can freely walk back to Myanmar, but if we want to leave the camp to find a job on the Thai side, we need to do it secretly.”

There are two camps located near Thaninthayi Region – Ban Don Yang and Tham Hin, which house about 10,000 refugees. Refugees from Thaninthayi Region fled their homes in 1980s. Some of those who returned found that others had taken their land. 

In Kayzutaw village in Dawei District on July 28, Saw Harvey, Thaninthayi Region Minister, said that it would require a year to prepare a safe environment to live as well as rehabilitation programmes for the returnees. Each family should be provided with five acres of land for farming, he said, adding that an aid group from Norway has proposed to assist in the process.

“People in refugee camps won’t come back just to have a meal. They must be certain that the environment is livable, or they could have trouble returning to the camps,” said Thant Zin, a coordinator from Dawei Development Group.
Thailand’s National Council for Peace and Order earlier said that both countries would work together to repatriate the refugees.

Up to 130,000 Myanmar refugees are now living in camps on the Thai side of the border. Many have been in the camps for decades and an entire generation has been born and raised in them.

For years, it has been considered unsafe for them to return to the conflict zones they fled.

NCPO chief General Prayuth Chan-ocha said that returning the refugees was one of the issues discussed during his meeting with Myanmar armed forces chief Senior General Min Aung Hlaing on July 4 in Bangkok.

Most of the refugees staying in Thailand fled Myanmar due to decades of internal conflict and fighting. Some 130,000 are part of 51.2 million refugees worldwide, according to the Global Trends Report released by the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in June. While the situation between Thailand and Myanmar appeared to be quiet enough to pave the way for their return, elsewhere in the world the number of refugees has been on the rise.

Between 2012 and 2013, UNHCR said that the global tally rose by 6 million.

The plan to return refugees is partly the result of an obvious coziness between the military junta in Thailand, which seized power on May 22, and Myanmar’s military – still the real power in the country, with 25 per cent of seats in Parliament allocated to its appointees. If the process – which could take up to a year – is successful, it would be a landmark achievement.

An officer of the Karen National Union’s No-4 Brigade in Myeik-Dawei liaison office said discussions are underway with other armed ethnic groups to provide the refugees with rehabilitation assistance.  He said that some parties, including an aid group, said they were carrying out research on rehabilitation programmes for IDPs in several areas of the region, including Myitta, Pulaw, Botpyin and Mengaw.


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