UNHCR urges more time for ensuring safety of refugees returning after Myanmar fighting

Briefing Notes, 12 November 2010

This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson Adrian Edwards to whom quoted text may be attributed at the press briefing, on 12 November 2010, at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.

As of today most of the 15,000 Myanmar refugees who fled into Thailand earlier this week, have returned across the border. Sites in northern Thailand's Tak province have been empty since Wednesday and further south in Sanghklaburi all 3,000 refugees were gone as of this morning. While many have returned to Myanmar others have dispersed and remain on the Thai side of the border. Other still have crossed back into Thailand again because of resumed fighting in some locations. UNHCR is currently working with NGOs and the local authorities to reach these isolated groups and assess their needs.

This morning, our field reports indicated fighting had re-erupted overnight and that there was potential for further clashes in the Myanmar villages of Maekata and Halokani. This was after the Royal Thai Army had given the all-clear for the refugees to return home. In light of the confused situation and the risks to safety, UNCHR is advocating with the Royal Thai Government that refugees be given further time before being encouraged to return home. We are particularly concerned about the safety of some of the returns on 10 and 11 November from Sangkhlaburi as fighting broke out again after refugees had gone back. As of this time UNHCR is not in a position to assess the voluntariness of all returns.

Overall, we feel that cooperation between UNHCR, NGOs, and the Thai authorities to provide assistance to refugees has been good. Although the time that most of the refugees spent in Thailand has been brief, in the three main sites (Mae Sot, Pho Phra and Sangklaburi) all parties coordinated well and necessary assistance has been made available.