Prayut supports delayed refugee return

Prayut supports delayed refugee return

Victims of the military dictators of Burma, tens of thousands of refugees have fled Myanmar and live in camps such as this Karen enclave in Ratchaburi province. (Photo courtesy UNHCR)
Victims of the military dictators of Burma, tens of thousands of refugees have fled Myanmar and live in camps such as this Karen enclave in Ratchaburi province. (Photo courtesy UNHCR)

Myanmar should be given more time to prepare to take back refugees, Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha says.

Speaking ahead of Myanmar State Counsellor Aung San Suu Kyi's three-day visit, starting today, Gen Prayut said talks between Thailand and Myanmar over refugee matters began during the previous administration and the government believes that when Myanmar is ready, it will then take the refugees back.

"Myanmar is willing to take back the refugees [from Thailand] but we have to give them more time to prepare for such considerations as securing land to accommodate those who return. We understand each other," the prime minister said.

There are currently about 100,000 Myanmar refugees in nine camps and shelters in Thailand, he said.

In the meantime, Gen Prayut said Thailand will continue to take care of the refugees on humanitarian grounds although this will inevitably result in an increased burden on the country.

To handle these refugees, Thailand is considering adopting the same approach as it did with the return of Hmong refugees from Tham Krabok to Laos several years ago, said the prime minister.

"At this time, as a representative of the Myanmar government, Ms Suu Kyi will be received on a government-to-government basis," he said.

Ms Suu Kyi previously visited Thailand as a pro-democracy activist in 2012, he said.

Myanmar's de facto leader will meet Gen Prayut at Government House tomorrow.

Foreign Ministry spokesman Sek Wannamethee said Ms Suu Kyi, also the foreign minister, has cancelled a visit to a Myanmar refugee camp at Ban at Tham Hin in Ratchaburi on Saturday due to potential bad weather which has raised safety concerns.

Pol Maj Gen Piyaphan Pingmuang, deputy spokesman of the National Police Office, said yesterday the police are ready to ensure the safety of Ms Suu Kyi throughout her visit.

Ahead of the meeting between Gen Prayut and Ms Suu Kyi, the Migrant Worker Rights Network (MWRN) issued a statement to express concerns regarding the government's "poorly" planned and short-term migration policy.

It said the government has been too focused on the seafood industry and fishing boats despite the fact that systematic migrant exploitation exists across the country and in most industrial sectors. The European Union has threatened the government with a potential seafood ban to Europe if it does not mend its ways in the fishing industry.

The migrant group recommended a national development plan with a long-term migration policy to be developed in line with economic and human security principles. In addition, a migration authority should be established under the Prime Minister's Office to develop Thailand's migration policy and issues relating to migrant workers.

Thailand should ensure migration matters are enforced by the authorities to prevent corruption and ensure compliance with human rights, labour rights and social protection laws, it said.

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