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16 – 22 June: World Refugee Day is a Timely Reminder that the Rights of Refugees Must Be Respected

June 25, 2014

30-jan-2014-TBC-IrrawaddyThe Royal Thai Army’s Internal Security Operations Command (ISOC) last week requested, at short notice, to meet with representatives of the UN High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and local NGOs to discuss how refugees from Burma currently living in various camps along the Thai-Burma border can be repatriated in the near future.  It is notable, however, that while regional military commanders were present at these meetings, no representatives from the refugee camps themselves or from community-based organizations (CBOs) assisting them were invited.  The obvious and disturbing implication is that a decision on the status of refugees inside Thailand is likely to be made in the very near future with minimal consultation with affected parties.  Moreover, the timing is not just premature and ill-considered, it is bitterly ironic given that last Friday, 20 June, was #WorldRefugeeDay.

We call upon all parties to respect the UN 1951 Convention and 1967 Protocol Relating to the Status of Refugees, which represents international law as regards the rights of refugees, and is at the very least morally persuasive if not legally binding on the parties concerned.  We also call upon all parties to include representatives of the refugee camps and of CBOs in any future meetings on the status of refugees or their potential repatriation.  Furthermore, we urge all parties to ensure that repatriation of refugees only takes place when circumstances are appropriate, it is genuinely safe to return, all refugees’ rights are guaranteed by the Burma government, and that, most importantly, such repatriation is completely voluntary.

Such assurances as might be made are unlikely to mean much until all ethnic groups in Burma have their rights preserved under an amended Burma Constitution, until they are granted proper self-determination and an equitable share of Burma’s economic development, until all land mines are cleared and people’s security guaranteed, and until violence and human rights abuses are halted against Burma’s beleaguered ethnic communities.  While the Burma Army continues to wage war against the Kachin people, other ethnic communities such as the Karen are unlikely to feel that it is safe enough to return, while the increased militarization and economic acquisition occurring in Karen State only serves to further disenfranchise refugees.

We also call upon the wider international community – including the UNHCR – to apply necessary pressure on relevant authorities to ensure that the rights of refugees are prioritized and protected.  We urge the Association of Southeast Asian Nations (ASEAN) to become more vocal, and to take necessary political and economic measures to encourage all parties to respect international law, for refugees are nothing if not a regional issue.

The risks of doing nothing are obvious, and Karen Women’s Organization’s (KWO) Letter of Appeal on #WorldRefugeeDay paints a painfully clear picture of what is at stake: “Refugees have positions and opinions regarding their return that need to be respected.  Whenever the question is raised to the refugees, ‘when do you want to return?’ the refugees answer that they will return when the politics in Burma is stable and sustainable, their safety is guaranteed, and there is justice for all.  The process of preparing and planning the return of refugees should only be done with the full, genuine and well-informed involvement of individual refugees and the wider refugee community.  Our rights should be respected and our input valued. Refugees are human beings just like everyone else.  We hope the Karen, and other ethnic groups in Burma, and IDPs, receive freedom to live, as ordinary citizens, in Burma, with dignity, equality and peace.

News Highlights

Burma Army offensives in Paluang areas cause hundreds of villagers to flee while an attack on the Karen National Liberation Army occurs in Tanintharyi Region, kills one and Shan State Army-North lose its camp at Red Ruby Mountain in Mongsu, southern Shan State, after heavy attacks by the Burma Army

Inside Burma

National League for Democracy and 88 Generation Peace and Open Society hold rallies in Tenasserim Division, Kachin and Mon States to show public support of constitutional reform

Burma government says they will repeal the ethnic armed group Shan State Army-South’s status as ‘unlawful’ if they agree to a nationwide ceasefire

Government to restart verification process of Rohingyas in Arakan State based on the 1982 Citizenship Law, only in areas where residents identified as Bengali during in the census survey taken two months ago

Religious Affairs Minister, Hsan Hsint, is fired for not performing his duties efficiently amid allegations of embezzlement and President Thein Sein appoints a new religious affairs advisory group, comprised of two officials with ties to his own family and a former religious affairs minister

Government pushes ahead with the construction of a large hydropower dam on the Salween River and two dams on tributaries of the Irrawaddy River, two highly controversial projects due to the heavy social and environmental impacts it will cause

Police authorities press charges against labour activist Su Su Nway for organising a massive protest over land grabs without permission in Pyin Oo Lwin, Mandalay Region

Ministry of Science and Technology threatens to expel students for participating in political activities

In Chin state, a Burma Army soldier attempts to rape a Chin woman going to cultivate land

In Tachilek, Shan State, local police seize 59 kilograms of methamphetamine tablets hidden under the seat of a pickup truck


Three Arakanese leaders from Arakan National Party visits China following an invitation from the ruling Chinese Communist Party to discuss various projects in Arakan State

Thai military junta issues an order to speed up registration of migrant workers to protect them from abuse by human traffickers while in Phra Nakhon, Thailand, the Anti-Human Trafficking Division arrests a Burmese man for human trafficking and forced child labour

Arrests of Burmese migrant workers in Chiang Mai, Thailand continue, and many say the Thai police would only release them after a “protection fee” was paid


UN human rights experts call on Burma’s government to abolish the draft religious conversion bill, stressing that every individual holds the right to freely choose and change their faith

Burma government rejects US’s call for constitutional reform, saying that is none of Washington’s business

A senior UN aid official says Rohingya Muslims are living in “appalling conditions” at relief camps in Arakan State, two years after sectarian violence left more than 120,000 people homeless


We Will Not Back Down
By Zin Mar Aung
The Irrawaddy

These Aren’t Refugee Camps, They’re Concentration Camps, and People Are Dying in Them
By Jason Motlagh

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Three Years of Suffering for the Kachin people, How Much Longer?
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TAKE ACTION! Sign a petition to call on Burma’s government to urgently reconsider and halt drafting of the Interfaith Marriage bill, known as the Law on Protection of Race and Religion

Church leaders carry out a prayer meeting to show their stance against the adoption of the draft Religious Conversion Law

In Myittha Township, Mandalay, local residents from six villages stage a protest to demand the Burma Army to the return of their cotton farmland

Statements and Press Releases

Members of ASEAN Intergovernmental Commission on Human Rights, ACT NOW Against Increasing Human Rights Violations in the Region!
By Asian Federation Against Involuntary Disappearances

Thai Industry Commits to Support Bail Out
By Finnwatch

မဟာသႏၲိသုခ ေက်ာင္းေတာ္ႀကီးႏွင့္ ပတ္သက္၍ အစိုးရ၏ အဓမၼေျဖရွင္းမႈအေပၚ သေဘာထား ေၾကညာခ်က္ ထုတ္ျပန္ျခင္း
By Generation Wave

Thailand: Fears of Crackdown Trigger Exodus
By Human Rights Watch

Statement by the IMF Mission to Myanmar
By International Monetary Fund

Karen Women’s Organization Letter of Appeal on World Refugee Day
By Karen Women’s Organization

Women From Burma Delegation Speaks In British Parliament
By Women’s League of Burma


Trafficking in Persons Report 2014
By US Department of State

This post is in: Uncategorized, Weekly Highlights