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Thailand urged not to force Karen refugees back to Myanmar

Making refugees return to a war zone is against international law, say rights groups

UCA News reporter

UCA News reporter

Published: March 29, 2021 05:00 PM GMT

Updated: March 30, 2021 07:03 AM GMT

Thailand urged not to force Karen refugees back to Myanmar

Karen refugees near the Salween River in Mae Hong Son, Thailand, on March 29. (Photo: Karen Women's Organization)

Humanitarian and rights groups have called on the Thai government to stop forcing Karen refugees to return to Myanmar.

More than 2,000 people, mostly from Ei Tu Hta IDP camp near the Salween River, were forced to return to Myanmar by Thai officials on March 29, according to aid groups.

They had fled from their villages in Karen state following the Myanmar military’s airstrikes against Karen rebels.

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The European Karen Network said Thai authorities blocked humanitarian aid to the newly arrived refugees and started forcing them back to Myanmar despite the danger of further bombings and jets continuing to fly over Karen villages.

“Forcibly sending people back into a conflict zone amounts to refoulement and is against international refugee law,” the group said in a statement.

The Karen National Union (KNU), the political wing of the Karen National Liberation Army, has called on Thai authorities to accept people on humanitarian grounds.

“It is very troubling to hear that the local Thai authority is asking the civilians to return to their current IDP camp Ei Thu Tha, where Tatmadaw aircraft attacked the area in the past few days,” the KNU said.

“Thailand’s heartless and illegal act must stop now,” Sunai Phasuk, senior researcher on Thailand for Human Rights Watch, said on Twitter.

The Myanmar military’s latest offensive against Karen rebels by using fighter jets bombing villages began on March 27 and continued on March 28 and 29.

More than 3,000 Karen civilians were forced to flee their homes into neighboring Thailand while hundreds of people remain in the jungle, according to aid groups.

Thai Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha said on March 29 that his government was prepared to accept refugees and rebuffed claims Thailand was supporting the Myanmar junta, telling reporters there was probably no one supporting the use of violence against civilians.

The KNU and the Restoration Council of Shan State, which operates near the Thai border, have condemned the Myanmar’s military bloody violence against peaceful protesters, pledging to support the resistance.

In Kachin state in northern Myanmar, renewed fighting flared up between the Tatmadaw and the Kachin Independence Army in early March.

As Myanmar’s military has continued to unleash terror against peaceful protesters in urban areas, the general strike committees of nationalities have called on ethnic armed groups to join with the people of Myanmar to fight against military rule.

In a significant move, three alliances of ethnic armed groups — the Kokang, Palaung and the Arakan Army — called on the Tatmadaw to stop the killings of unarmed civilians including children. They warned they would unite in resistance if the killings didn’t stop.

At least 510 people have been killed and more than 2,574 detained since the Feb. 1 coup, according to the Assistance Association for Political Prisoners.

The military’s carnage has brought strong condemnation from Western countries but it has failed to sway the generals to end their brutal clampdown.

The United Nations Security Council will hold a meeting on the Myanmar crisis on March 31.

US Trade Representative Katheirne Tai said on March 29 that the US was suspending all trade engagement with Myanmar until the return of a democratically elected government.

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