Second batch of Myanmar refugees due back from Thai camps

Second batch of Myanmar refugees due back from Thai camps

Nearly 100 Karen refugees from the Nu Po camp in Tak are expected to return to Myanmar next year, forming the second batch under the two governments’ repatriation scheme.

Saw Gaw, committee chairman at the camp in Umphang district in Tak told the Myanmar Times that the committee was working in conjunction with the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and decided to send back the refugees at the end of the current academic year.

“Fifteen family units signed up to return. But some students are included in the list,” the Myanmar Times on Wednesday quoted him as saying.

According to the Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement Ministry, the returnees can move into low-cost housing at Shwe Linn Ban industrial zone in Hlaing Tharyar township and pay for the accommodation at an unspecified date later on.

The Myanmar government told the initial group of returnees interested in government-provided housing that they would need to pay 9.8 million kyat (266,000 baht) for each unit on an eight-year instalment plan, but has since softened on a timetable for repayment.

Ko Ko Naing, director-general of the ministry’s rescue department, said that refugees in the first batch of returnees had so far declined the offer, posing a challenge for the government.

“The government cannot give the housing without fees. We cannot do more than that for the refugees. The ministry also is providing the refugees with 3,000 kyat per day,” he said.

He added that the ministry is hoping to be better prepared for the second batch of repatriates, and hopes the group will not face some of the concerns that the initial returnees have expressed.

Daw Khin San Yi, 59, a former political prisoner and returnee from the Nu Po camp said on Tuesday that the government didn’t properly explain the repayment scheme or time frame on the low-cost housing.

“We have sent a letter to the president and state counsellor about our problems. But they haven’t responded yet,” she said.

More than 60 refugees in Thailand crossed the border back into Myanmar last month, with most travelling onward to their homes in various states and regions. But 17 refugees who arrived in Yangon on Oct 27 had nowhere to live. They are now being housed at a Ministry of Social Welfare, Relief and Resettlement shelter in Mayangone township.

The UNHCR has urged the Myanmar government to take full responsibility for protecting the rights of returning citizens and help them rebuild their lives in-country.

“Where we have access, particularly in rural areas, UNHCR will continue to advocate and provide support to these areas, and support local communities in coordination with the government, non-state actors, humanitarian and development partners,” said Andrew Dusek, associate communications officer at the UNHCR.

As part of the repatriation plan, refugees received 8,300 baht per adult and 6,500 baht per child from the Thai government. Each family also received 300,000 kyat from the Myanmar government ahead of their return.

According to the Karen Human Rights Group, the nine refugee camps on the border in Thailand house approximately 120,000 Myanmar nationals.

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