Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Shan refugees fear repatriation

Planned ressttlement site (Map-SHRF)

Shan community based organizations claim that Burmese authorities are preparing to repatriate Shan refugees from Thailand, warning that the safety of refugees are at risk and repatriation is “premature.” The community groups, include the Shan Human Rights Foundation and the Shan Women’s Action Network, said that Burmese authorities had visited Koung Jor camp of about 500 people last month.

 The camp leader was contacted shortly afterwards by Burma’s military to say that new housing would be built for returning families on the Burma side of the border, about 15km from the camp. The incident again raises the suspicions of Shan community groups that refugees could face involuntary repatriation from the refugee camps on the Thai side of the border to a militarized zone inside Burma. 

Shan community groups said that the security situation on border has not improved and that tensions have risen between armed militias in recent months. Koung Jor camp has a less formal status than the other nine refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border with Shan groups fearing that because of the lack of international attention to their plight, the chances of involuntary repatriation are considerably higher for them “The Shan refugee crisis has been pushed under the carpet for years,” said Ying Harn Fah of the Shan Women’s Action Network. “Just because most Shans don’t have refugee status, that is no excuse to deny the few recognized Shan refugees their right to safe and dignified return.” 

In August 2012, plans by a Norwegian NGO contracted under the Myanmar Peace Support Initiative to survey Shan refugees about returning to Burma were cancelled, after it emerged that the designated resettlement site at Mong Hta in Shan State, was still an active war zone, strewn with land mines. It is unclear if international donors are supporting the plans to build housing for returning refugees in the Mong Taw-Mong Hta area. Of the 500 refugees in Koung Jor camp, half are children. The camp was set up in 2002 following fighting on the Thai-Burma border between the Burma Army and Shan State Army-South (SSA-S). It is the only Shan refugee camp inside Thailand.