First Myanmar refugee returns from Thailand under way
This is a summary of what was said by UNHCR spokesperson William Spindler – to whom quoted text may be attributed – at today's press briefing at the Palais des Nations in Geneva.
This week sees the first pilot voluntary returns of Myanmar refugees from Thailand, an initiative that is being supported by the governments of the two countries. The initial numbers are modest, but the aim is to pave the way towards a process of returns that might eventually resolve one of Asia’s longest-running refugee situations.
The first returns are happening today. A family of six refugees is travelling from the Tham Hin camp in Thailand’s western province of Ratchaburi to Myanmar’s Tanintharyi region, just across the border. Tomorrow several dozen more refugees are expected to leave from Nupo camp, further north in Tak province for destinations including in Yangon, Kayin and Bago states.
UNHCR has been providing refugees with information on the conditions at their return destinations. Our staff have also been counselling people to ensure that returns are properly based on informed decisions. Repatriation transport is being coordinated between the two governments, UNHCR and IOM. WFP is providing cash assistance for three months of food support. Further reintegration assistance will be provided by the Myanmar authorities, UNHCR and other agencies on the ground.
As the peace process continues in Myanmar, the hope is that this week’s returns will help grow interest in repatriation among other refugees.
Thailand is currently home to some 103,300 Myanmar refugees, living in nine camps along the Thailand-Myanmar border and mainly of Karen, Karenni, Burmese and Mon ethnicity. Refugees first arrived there in the early 1980s after fleeing ethnic conflict in south-eastern Myanmar, making this one of Asia’s most protracted refugee situations.
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