Sunday, September 16, 2012

Myanmar refugees in Thailand preparing to return home

BANGKOK: About 120,000 Myanmar refugees in Thailand may return home within a year, the kingdom's National Security Council said on Thursday, following recent talks between the two nations.

Tens of thousands of people, many from the Shan and Karen ethnic minorities who have fled war, are housed in camps along Thailand's border, but the end of outright military rule in Myanmar has raised hopes they will return.

Myanmar "is clearing landmines along the borders, preparing to build shelters and other infrastructure... to be ready within one year", the NSC said in a statement, citing its secretary-general Wichean Potephosree.

Wichean, who visited Naypyidaw last week, discussed the issue with Aung Min, a minister in the President's Office, who told him the former junta-ruled country will also provide training and jobs for the returning refugees.

Myanmar also wants Thais "to invest in building industrial estates" on its soil to employ the tens of thousands of potential returnees, the statement added.

The NSC's comments came as Human Rights Watch released a report condemning Thailand for failing to meet international standards on the treatment of refugees.

The kingdom has not ratified the 1951 Refugee Convention and has no law to protect refugees, leaving them vulnerable to exploitation, police harassment and arbitrary detention, the HRW report said.

"Thailand places Burmese (Myanmar) refugees with the unfair choice of stagnating for years in remote refugee camps or living and working outside camps without protection from arrest or deportation," said Bill Frelick, HRW's refugee programme director.

"Refugees from other countries are barely tolerated and Thai authorities sometimes arrest and detain them indefinitely," he added.

After a new quasi-civilian government replaced the long-ruling junta in Myanmar last year, Thailand announced that it wanted to shut the border camps, but HRW praised Bangkok for not rushing to close the facilities.