UN refugee agency helps people to return home but says it will continue to advocate for an improved process
The Myawaddy border crossing from Thailand to Myanmar was used by some refugees to return home on May 7. (Photo by James Antrobus via flickr.com/CC BY 2.0)
After decades of displacement, 92 refugees in Thailand returned to southeast Myanmar on May 7 through a process coordinated by the Thai and Myanmar governments with the support of UNHCR, the U.N. refugee agency, and its partners.
The refugees departed from five refugee camps on the border and split into two groups that crossed from Thailand into Myanmar's Kayin and Kayah states.
They were received by Myanmar authorities and assisted at two reception centers, from where they will go on to villages and towns in both states or in some cases to the Bago and Sagaing regions.
In the first such repatriation in October 2016, 71 Myanmar refugees returned home from Thailand and UNHCR has been monitoring their situation.
"While today's second facilitated return movement is an encouraging step towards a solution to the refugees' protracted displacement and encampment in Thailand, UNHCR will continue to advocate for a strengthened process that is both timely and predictable, allowing refugees to plan their futures with dignity and governments and other actors to operate efficiently," UNHCR said in a statement on May 7.
"This is voluntary repatriation, so it depends on the wishes of the people. Many people in the camps still observe the situation in Myanmar," Robert Htwe, president of the Karen Refugee Committee, told ucanews.com.
Myo Myint Than, Myanmar's ambassador to Thailand, visited the Kyauk Long Gyi reception center in Myawaddy township, near the Thai border, and inspected the accommodation, food and healthcare for returnees.
About 100,000 refugees and internally displaced people live in nine camps along the border. Nearly 80 percent are ethnic Karen from eastern Myanmar who fled conflict and persecution at the hands of the Myanmar army during military rule.
Programs to repatriate the refugees have increased as Myanmar has moved to a more democratic government since Aung San Suu Kyi's National League for Democracy (NLD) took office in 2016 after formally ending decades-long military rule, but the NLD is forced to share power with a military that still controls the army borders and the police force.
Sporadic clashes in ethnic areas, lack of infrastructure development and unemployment mean that some refugees are reluctant to return home.
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