CHIANG RAI – Thailand’s National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO), has reached an agreement with the commander-in-chief of Burma’s military to repatriate the 120,000 refugees on the Thai Burma border.
The agreement has alarmed human rights experts and has increased refugees concerns, with uncertainty as to exactly when and where the refugees will go and how their safety can be guaranteed.
Head of the NCPO, General Prayuth Chan-ocha, announced on Friday during his weekly television broadcast to the Thai nation that almost 120,000 refugees from nine camps would be sent back to Burma.
General Prayuth’s announcement followed a meeting with the commander-in-chief of the Burma Army, General Min Aung Hlaing.
General Prayuth was quoted in The Bangkok Post as saying that refugees would be returned safely in compliance with “humanitarian principles.”
Human rights experts have warned of a lack of transparency surrounding the plan to send refugees back to Burma, noting that General Prayuth’s statement left out the exact conditions for the refugee return.
The United Nations High Commission for Refugees said that the government should stand by its previous commitments.
“The Royal Thai Government has consistently reassured us that any refugee returns to Myanmar [also known as Burma] must be voluntary and conducted in safety and dignity. UNHCR is not aware of any changes in this [Thailand] government policy, or of a government time frame to repatriate refugees,” a spokesperson from UNHCR said
Following intense media speculation, Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, released a media statement on Thursday 17 July in an attempt to cool speculation that the refugee camps on the Thai Burma border were about to be closed and residents sent back to Burma.
The Ministry of Foreign Affairs press release highlighted four main points and underlined that a recent meeting between Thailand and the Burma military, that any discussions on repatriation were in general terms only and without a specific time frame.
To avoid unnecessary ‘spin’ or misunderstanding among media, international NGOs, community-based groups and especially creating unnecessary fear within the refugee community surrounding this important issue, Chiang Rai Times has reproduced the Ministry of Foreign Affairs press release in full.
Thailand’s Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Press Release on Displaced persons from Myanmar in Thailand
Recently there have been intensified interests and news circulation about the displaced persons from Myanmar in Thailand. Below are clarifications on this issue.
1. For three decades, Thailand has been hosting around 130,000 displaced persons from Myanmar in our 9 temporary shelters on humanitarian basis.
2. In previous discussions between high-ranking officials of Thailand and Myanmar, the issue of preparing conditions on both sides of the border for a possible return of these displaced persons has always been raised to touch base on both sides.
3. During his recent visit to Thailand, Senior General Min Aung Hlaing, Commander-in-Chief of the Myanmar Armed Forces, held a bilateral meeting with General Prayuth Chan-o-cha, Head of the National Council for Peace and Order (NCPO).
Both sides touched upon this particular issue, among others, and the Myanmar side reaffirmed its commitment to working closely with Thailand to prepare for a safe return in the future in accordance with humanitarian and human rights principles. The discussion was in general terms with no specific time-frame.
4. Preparedness for a sustainable return of these displaced persons in safety and dignity is vital. Further discussions are needed with all relevant partners and International Organizations, including UNHCR, in this preparation to ensure the success of the process.