Resettlement of Myanmar refugees from Thailand tops 30,000
BANGKOK, Thailand, June 25 (UNHCR) - The world's largest resettlement operation passed a significant milestone this week with more than 30,000 Myanmar refugees transported from Thailand since January 2005 to begin new lives in third countries.
The UN refugee agency said in Bangkok that the number of departures since the resettlement programme began had this week reached 30,144. Nearly all of the refugees had been sheltering in nine refugee camps along the Thai-Myanmar border since fleeing fighting and oppression in their homeland.
"Some of the refugees have been here for nearly two decades. Some were born in refugee camps, grew up there and are now raising their own families in refugee camps," said UNHCR Regional Representative Raymond Hall. "For them, resettlement offers a way out of the camps and the opportunity for a fresh start in life."
Resettlement has become an attractive option for Myanmar refugees in Thailand, Hall added, as the chances of returning home any time soon have dimmed. Settling down permanently in Thailand is also not a possibility.
"We are very grateful to resettlement countries for making it possible for so many refugees to get a new chance at building productive lives," Hall said.
Of the 30,144 departures so far, the vast majority - 21,453 - have gone to the United States, which made an open-ended offer in 2005 to take refugees from the camps in Thailand. They have gone to cities like Milwaukee, Denver, Syracuse and Minneapolis.
Australia has received 3,405 and Canada 2,605. Other resettlement countries for Myanmar refugees are Finland, Ireland, the Netherlands, New Zealand, Norway, Sweden and the United Kingdom.
About 300 Myanmar refugees leave Thailand every week on average for resettlement, and close to 8,000 more could leave by the end of this year. The nine camps remain home to 123,584 refugees and asylum-seekers.
Asia is also the site of another of the world's largest resettlement operations, with more than 10,000 refugees from Bhutan expected to leave Nepal for resettlement countries such as the U.S., Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Denmark, the Netherlands and Norway in a programme that began in March this year.
By Kitty McKinsey in Bangkok, Thailand