Thailand: Japan selecting first Myanmar refugees for resettlement

Briefing Notes, 2 February 2010

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Andrej Mahecic to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 2 February 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

Japanese government officials are visiting Mae La refugee camp in northern Thailand today (Tuesday, 02 Feb.) to begin interviewing refugees from Myanmar who have applied for resettlement to Japan. This is the first concrete step towards making Japan Asia's first resettlement country after it announced in December, 2008, that it would accept 90 Myanmar refugees from Mae La camp over three years in a pilot resettlement project.

The refugees being interviewed this week were identified by UNHCR as being in need of resettlement primarily because they have lived in the refugee camp for long periods in some cases 10 or 20 years with no other solution in sight. The final decision as to whether they will be accepted for resettlement rests with Japan.

If all goes smoothly, the first family should depart in September this year, with 30 refugees scheduled to be resettled each year over three years. Some 20,000 Myanmar refugees have already been resettled from Mae La camp, part of the more than 55,000 Myanmar refugees who have been resettled from the nine camps in Thailand since large-scale resettlement began in 2005. Most have gone to the United States, Australia and Canada, with a smaller number departing for eight other countries.

We welcome the addition of Japan to the list of resettlement countries, not only for the important signal it sends to other Asian countries, but also as significant burden-sharing, helping Thailand find solutions for refugees from Myanmar who have been on its territory for more than 25 years.