Pressure on Burmese Refugees in Thailand

MD
By January 10, 2014 07:28

BANGKOK — Back-to-back fires that ravaged two refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border—killing one person and affecting 900—have added to mounting pressure on the refugees to return home, amid talks on repatriating them as Burma opens up after half a century of brutal military rule.

Fires are a regular hazard in the nine camps that house some 130,000 refugees along the border. The Thai government forbids the use of materials that might suggest a more permanent stay – even though many of the camps have been around for more than two decades – so homes are built using highly flammable materials such as bamboo, thatch and eucalyptus.

Last March, a devastating fire swept through Ban Mae Surin camp, killing 37 people and leaving 65 percent of the camp homeless.

The latest fires, however, came at a time when opportunities to resettle in a third country are diminishing, and officials from both countries are talking about repatriating the refugees, many of whom fled war and persecution decades ago. Many international donors are also turning their attention to funding projects within the country, and the camps have been hit with reduced funding.

Sally Thompson, executive director of the Border Consortium (TBC), a non-government organization (NGO) that has been working in the camps since the 1980s, said refugees’ future return to Burma should be voluntary, yet lately they feel they are being nudged out.

“When you get things like the fire, the reduction in services in the camps – it’s seen as a push factor. All these incidents served to put pressure and anxiety on the refugees that they’re actually being pushed into making decisions to go back,” she said.

Mitos Urgel from WEAVE, a small NGO that works mainly with female refugees from the camps, agrees.

“Every day they face uncertainty, whether it’s about repatriation or the day-to-day struggle to earn a living. There’s no clarity on what the future will hold,” she said.

“(Fires) are not something new in the refugee camps, but because of talk of resettlement, funding going down and the reduction in the food basket, it’s making them feel really bad.”

Source : Irrawaddy

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MD
By January 10, 2014 07:28

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