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Myanmar: UNHCR reached agreement

Briefing notes

Myanmar: UNHCR reached agreement

12 March 2004

You may have heard reports about an agreement UNHCR has reached with the Myanmar government on beginning initial efforts in the east of the country to create conditions that could eventually allow the voluntary return of 130,000 refugees from camps in neighouring Thailand. There are also an estimated 600,000 internally displaced people in this area of Myanmar.

Following meetings Feb. 12-14 between Myanmar officials and the director of our Asia-Pacific bureau, Mr. Jean-Marie Fakhouri, UNHCR will begin providing assistance to improve basic health, education, community services and infrastructure facilities in locations of potential refugee return.

We want to stress, however, that the current situation in the states along the Myanmar-Thailand border - Karen State, Mon State and Tenassarim Division - is not conducive to refugee returns. While discussions are currently taking place between the Myanmar authorities and insurgent groups, an acceptable settlement is an essential prerequisite to refugee repatriation to this area.

Thus, our work at this stage will focus on the improvements mentioned. Years of conflict and insurgency have had a serious impact on basic facilities and infrastructure in the area and communities are not in a position to absorb possible large numbers of returnees without international assistance.

This preliminary work will be done through cooperation with locally active NGOs. UNHCR will not, at this stage establish field offices in the area and will operate through missions from our office in Yangon. We will coordinate our roving presence and community-based assistance with other agencies also active in the area.