Sunday, August 31, 2014

Tenasserim to allot land for refugees, officials say

About 130,000 refugees from Burma still live in camps along the Thai border. (PHOTO: Reuters)

Government officials of Tenasserim Division [Tanintharyi Region] claimed that refugees residing in a camp in Thailand would soon be able to return to Burma as they are scouting for land for their resettlement.

The camp in question is Tham Hin, located in Thailand’s Ratchaburi province bordering Burma, which houses about 6,000 refugees. Karen Ethnic Affairs Minister Saw Harry visited the camp and said that 75 percent of the refugees wish to return home, so the divisional government is now looking for plots of land in Tenasserim Division to accommodate them.

“We thought one plot near Maw Taung in Tanintharyi Township’s border gate and one to the east of Myittar in Tavoy would be good places,” Saw Harry said. “We are still searching for the exact places.”

He added that a resettlement committee will be there to assist the refugees.

“If they come back, we would ask for assistance from one of the NGOs and prepare rations,” Saw Harry said.

Regional government secretary Tin Thein claimed that land would be given to the refugees when they return, though there are no plans to build houses yet.

“When they come back to stay, we have plans to give them the land. Most of them may have families in their respective villages,” Tin Thein said. “When they get back to their villages, we will help them together with the NGOs.”

“We cannot build the houses without them coming back first,” he said.

Saw Ramond Htoo, Tham Hin refugee camp committee chairman, said that refugees have no immediate plan to return.

“We are not going back now,” Saw Ramond Htoo said, adding that refugees mistrust whether the government’s land offer is legitimate. “They came and took the land before and there was no land for us.”

Thailand currently hosts nine refugee camps where more than 130,000 refugees from Burma reside, having escaped armed and ethnic conflict from their home states.

While the Thai and Burmese governments haveexpressed the desire to repatriate refugees from Thailand’s nine refugee camps, aid agencies, including The Border Consortium, have said that theconditions are not right for refugees to return yet.

Regional officials emphasised that they are only in a scouting stage and no decision has been reached about where and when repatriation might be possible.