Monday, August 22, 2011

Burmese refugees fearful of being forced back to Burma

Monday, 22 August 2011 22:20 Tun Tun

New Delhi (Mizzima) – Because of a recent speech by Burma’s president inviting citizens living abroad to return home to help the country develop, refugees in Thailand and Malaysia are concerned that Thailand and Malaysia will change their refugee policies.

A Burmese refugee crosses a wood bridge at the
Mae La refugee camp located near the Thai-Burmese
border, some 550 kms northwest of Bangkok. Many
Burmese fear Thailand may close the refugee camps.
Photo: AFP
On Wednesday, Burmese President Thein Sein said the government would invite its citizens living abroad to return home. Thai authorities recently gave instructions to officials at the Umpiem refugee camp to make a list of refugees who want to return to Burma.

“A few days after Thein Sein invited Burmese citizens living in foreign countries to return home, they told us to make the list. But, other refugee camps have not been ordered to make the list,” Saw Wah Htee, the chairman of the Umpiem refugee camp committee, told Mizzima.

The chairman of Tak Province [in which the camp is located] on Thursday ordered Saw Wah Htee to compile the list but no reason was given.

The list must include four areas; the number of refugees who want to return Burma, the number of Burmese refugees who have already arrived in resettlement countries, the number of refugees who have applied to go to resettlement countries and the number of refugees who want to continue to live in Thailand.

“The Thai government did not say state a reason. I think they want to remove this burden [refugees] if they have an opportunity,” said Saw Wah Htee.

The Umpiem refugee camp was set up in 1999. More than 25,000 people live in 16 quarters of the camp. Among them, 11,404 people are recognized by the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) and the remaining have applied for refugee status with the UNHCR.

The list has not yet been compiled because camp officials wanted to meet with the chairman of Tak Province on Monday.

“Our major concern is that Thailand will close the refugee camps. Some refugees do not trust the invitation of the government because it has not released political prisoners and the army has fought against cease-fire armed groups,” said Myo Thant, who has lived in the camp for seven years.

Similarly, Burmese refugees in Malaysia are concerned that the government will force some refugees to return in accordance with Malaysia’s “6Ps” program, and now their concerns are further increased.

“Some people do not have refugee status from the UNHCR so they can be arrested at any time,” said Tun Tun, an official with Burma Campaign-Malaysia.

From August 1 to August 31, in accordance with Malaysia’s “6Ps” program, illegal migrants including refugees need to be officially identified to receive legal status. Malaysia will launch a nationwide crackdown on illegal migrants in November.

The “6Ps” refers to “registration, legalization, granting amnesty, supervision, enforcement and deportation.”

According to the UNHCR-Malaysia Web site, there are 73,000 Burmese refugees recognized by UNHCR including 12,000 Burmese asylum seekers and 5,000 other Burmese. On the other hand, Malaysia-based Burmese organizations have estimated that there are more than 400,000 Burmese refugees in Malaysia who have arrived there via various means.

“We are worried for the refugees who are not in accord with the “6Ps” program. They are refugees. The people who the Malaysia government can force back to their countries are not people who have refugee cards recognized by UN. But, the people who have identification cards only recognized by the [small] communities can be forced to go back,” said Nay Min Tun, an information official with the Malaysian-based Alliance of Arakan Refugees.

Most Burmese refugees in Malaysia have organized small communities and they hold the identification cards recognized by those communities.

Burmese refugees in Malaysia and Thailand said that they have concerns that both governments would force them to return to Burma. Many said that if the Burmese government really makes a genuine change, they would voluntarily return.

“We don’t mean that we don’t want to go back. All the Burmese citizens living in foreign countries including refugees want to go back to Burma if there is genuine peace, stability and security in our land,” said Saw Wah Htee.

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