UNHCR assesses South Thai Muslim arrivals in Malaysia

Briefing Notes, 13 September 2005

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Ron Redmond to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 13 September 2005, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

UNHCR staff in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, are currently preparing a preliminary overall assessment of a group of 131 southern Thai Muslims after completing initial interviews with the group at an immigration centre in Kelantan, in north-east Malaysia, last Friday.

The interviews were conducted over an intensive period of four days by a team of 11 UNHCR staff deployed from Kuala Lumpur to the Tanah Merah immigration centre. The UNHCR team sought to establish the circumstances behind the flight of the group to Malaysia on 30 August, and to assess their humanitarian and protection needs.

The material gathered during the interviews is now being compiled, assessed, cross-checked and reviewed an essential process which may take about 10 days. At the earliest, the preliminary findings may be ready at the end of next week.

The group of 61 men, 21 women and 49 children ranging in age from five months to 17 years comprising 64 cases, are still being held at the Tanah Merah immigration centre.

Following in its humanitarian tradition, Malaysia is cooperating fully with UNHCR, respecting our mandate as well as complying with international law and standards.

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Angelina Jolie revisits Myanmar refugees on World Refugee Day

UNHCR's Special Envoy Angelina Jolie spent this year's World Refugee Day with Karenni refugees from Myanmar. Some have been in exile in Thailand for 30 years, making this one of the longest-running refugee situations in the world.

On her fourth visit to the refugee camps in Thailand, Jolie met Baw Meh's family, three generations of refugees who have lived in Ban Mai Nai Soi camp since 1996.

The family told Jolie they fled Myanmar's Kayah state thinking they would return home shortly. Eighteen years later, they are still here. Baw Meh, 75, lost her husband last year. He died before he could fulfill his dream of returning home. Some of their family members have been resettled to third countries. Others have chosen to stay. Baw Meh has refused to go, preferring to stay close to her village.

Like many refugees along the border, her family is watching the reform process in Myanmar closely and mulling the prospect of eventual return. "After 30 years in exile, the best solution we can give these refugees is the right and power to choose their own way forward," said Jolie. "This is our chance to get it right, to break the vicious cycle of conflict and displacement once and for all."

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Over 2,000 refugees from Myanmar have crossed the border into Thailand in recent months. Most claim to be fleeing renewed conflict and human rights abuses in Kayin state, Myanmar. The mainly ethnic Karen refugees say their houses and villages have been burned and civilians killed. Many were weak upon arrival, suffering from illnesses such as malaria, after a long, dangerous journey to the camps through heavily mined areas. The refugees have been arriving at government-run camps, mainly in the Mae Hong Son area in northern Thailand.

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There are currently 140,000 refugees from Myanmar living in nine border camps in Thailand, many of them have been there for up to 20 years.

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