The Burma Campaign UK today called on the government of Thailand not to go ahead with forcing around 3,000 ethnic Karen refugees back to Burma. The refugees fled into Thailand in June 2009 following a military offensive by the Burmese Army and their allies, the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), in Karen State, Eastern Burma. Latest reports are that so called ‘voluntary’ repatriation will start on February 5th.
Although the Royal Thai Government and local and military representatives have officially stated that they will not force people to return, in practice they are applying significant pressure on the refugees to return.
Until now they have been kept in two temporary camps, Nong Bua, (also called No Bu), and Mae U Su, in Tha Song Yang close to the Thailand-Burma border. Many of these refugees have already been forced to flee their homes four or more times.
The area in Karen State to which the refugees would be made to return to has many landmines. On January 18th a pregnant women who had returned stepped on a landmine and was seriously injured. In addition, the area is now under the control of the DKBA, an organisation which is guilty of committing horrific human rights abuses against civilians, including widespread use of forced labour, executions, torture and mutilations, forced recruitment of soldiers, including child soldiers, theft and extortion, and forced taxation at extremely high levels, making survival very difficult.
The refugees say that they would return if they could, but it is not safe to do so. Only one family out of the 3,000 people has said they wish to return.
“Sending these refugees back to Burma is sending them back to possible death, slave labour or forced recruitment as soldiers,” said Zoya Phan, International Coordinator of Burma Campaign UK. “Over the past 25 years Thailand has earned the respect of the international community by giving shelter to refugees fleeing abuses in Burma. If refugees are now forced to return it will not only be morally unacceptable, it will also damage the reputation of Thailand in the eyes of the world.”
The Burma Campaign UK is also calling on the British and other governments to ask the Royal Thai government to allow them to remain in Thailand.
For more information contact Zoya Phan on 020 7324 4710