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Uncertainty clouds Myanmar refugee plan: NGO

Originally appeared in The Myanmar Times

February 25, 2013

Susanna Hla Hla Soe at NAUWU Screening in Rangoon © Myanmar TimesMore than 160,000 Myanmar refugees living in border areas in Thailand are reportedly set to return home but information about their resettlement in their homeland remains murky, NGOs say.

The Thai and Myanmar governments are working with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in preparing to resettle 3200 refugee households from nine camps in Thailand near the border.

Housing for the resettlement near Myawaddy in Kayin State has been under construction since last year but INGO experts said the residential quarters are neither suitable nor safe, especially since some are near minefields.

The Burma Partnership, an exile group formed by members of the 88 Generation student group and others who fled to Thailand for political asylum after 1988, showed a documentary film, “Nothing about Us without Us: Refugees’ Voices About their Return to Burma”, in Yangon last week.

The film highlights refugees’ feelings about their impending repatriation from camps along the border and features interviews with the UNHCR officials, academics and refugees.

Daw Khin Ohmar, coordinator of Burma Partnership, said the government should follow the standards and commitments of international conventions and law.

“People in the camps are worried about moving,” she said. “They don’t know when or where they will move to, and whether they will be safe during the relocation or at their new homes,” she said.

“Refugees mostly want to return to their former villages but most of that land has been converted to rubber or palm oil plantations and they will be expected to live in new areas,” she said.

However, despite their fears, refugees say the government has not provided them with detailed information.

“We’re trying to present the real situation of what is happening on the ground to the respective authorities, the media and international organisations in order to ensure that the proper actions are taking in regard to refugee rights,” Daw Khin Ohmar said.

Many different ethnic groups, including the Karen, Kachin, Mon, Pa-O and Palaung are represented in the camps in Thailand, some of which opened 30 years ago.

And although some refugees leave for third countries every year, the number of people living in the camps increases every year. There are also many more refugees living in unofficial border camps.

Daw Khin Omar said international organisations and donors want to know how the Myanmar government will handle the relocation issue and if it will respect refugee rights.

“How the government responds to this issue is critical. … We expect the government to listen to the voices of refugees and cooperate with civil society groups to solve the issue,” she said.

Director of Karen Women Empowerment Group, Naw Susana Hla Hla Soe, said more transparency and information sharing is needed.

“Three months ago I attended a meeting in Nay Pyi Taw. My friend, who is a director of a government body, greeted me saying ‘Ma Susana, you’re coming about the return or 160,000 refugees’. I was surprised because my meeting was not about that,” she said.

A government official said it would be “alert” to the issue, Naw Susana Hla Hla Soe said but has failed to provide any detailed information on what it was doing to solve the problem.

“I wonder how we can keep alert about it. We want to know detailed information about when and how they [the refugees] will be brought back, where they will be resettled and what we need to do as civil society groups.”

The Burma Partnership’s documentary showed a resettlement map in Myawaddy but the map still has not been distributed to the refugee camps. The map is also available on the group’s website.

The Burma Partnership has posted the documentary on its website and is having it translated to English, Japanese and French.

View the original article here.

This post is in: News Clip