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Statement on Repatriation of Refugees from the Thai–Myanmar Border

By Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network  •  July 22, 2014

The Asia Pacific Refugee Rights Network (APRRN), a growing network of 194 organizations and individuals from 26 countries, expresses its grave concern over the recent announcement by the Royal Thai Government regarding the repatriation of refugees living on the Thai – Myanmar border back to Myanmar (Burma). While the announcement does not specify a particular date for repatriation, the intent of the announcement does raise serious humanitarian concerns.

Refugees, who fled from Myanmar amidst violence, insecurity and human rights abuses have been living in camps on the Thai-Myanmar border for more than two decades. APRRN believes that those who fled from their place of habitual residence should have the opportunity to return with safety, dignity and most importantly voluntarily. However, APRRN strongly emphasizes that while the principle of voluntary return is central, conducive conditions that facilitate return are critical. It is APRRN’s view that while ongoing political reform in Myanmar and the transition to democracy is underway, there are continuing incidences of violence, persecution, gross human rights abuses and instability. This makes return for refugees fraught with danger and therefore an inopportune moment to contemplate voluntary repatriation. Any action that results in the forced or involuntary return to possible persecution and harm has the potential of violating the international principle of non-refoulement.

APRRN is also of the firm opinion that prior to repatriation, whether by the Thai government or any other agency, critical safeguards for protection, health and livelihoods along with necessary conducive atmosphere should be in place in Myanmar so that a sustained reintegration process into the community is attainable.

Most of the places from which people have fled continue to be conflict ridden, and even if there is peace or at least the potential of peace, landmines and other remnants of conflict are yet to be cleared. Infrastructure that provides basic health, education and livelihood options for those returnees need to be in place.  At this moment, these fundamental prerequisites remain unmet.

APRRN is also concerned that there may be refugees who do not wish to return to Myanmar for genuine reasons of fear. It is imperative that other viable durable solutions are found for such residual population as well.

APRRN underscores the need for in-depth participatory consultations with the refugees and refugee community organizations in developing a strategy that builds towards a truly informed, voluntary, orderly, and phased return of refugees back to Myanmar.

APRRN thus urges the Royal Thai Government and the Government of Myanmar to ensure the following as prerequisites for the voluntary return of the refugees:

  • Ensure peace and an end to violence and persecution at all levels;
  • Ensure meaningful engagement of refugees and refugee communities in open, participatory consultations, which would form the basis for a voluntary return strategy;
  • Develop adequate infrastructure, that enables returning refugees access to adequate health care, education and other livelihood options; and
  • Ensure that returning refugees will have all their human rights respected along with the establishment of an independent monitoring mechanism for compliance with human rights safeguards in the process of repatriation and reintegration.

While APRRN statements are prepared in consultation with APRRN members, they do not necessarily reflect the views of all APRRN members.

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This post is in: Press Release

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