Written by U Ne Oo on 1997-04-02
A recent report by Bangkok Post indicates that the Royal Thai Government have the policy not to give UNHCR access to the refugee camps at Thai-Burmese border. Unfortunately, such an un-helpful policy has been in existence since the time Thai-Burmese border refugee issue was raised in earlier years(i.e. 1993/94). The general political situation concerning with the refugees, nevertheless, have changed since then and therefore we are continuing to hope that the Royal Thai Government will eventually allow the UNHCR to get access to the refugee camps at the border.
From my personal view, to ensure the safe and voluntary return of refugees, the creation of Safety Zones within Burma is most importt important. However, it is also important for the UNHCR to be able to play a more involved role for refugees affairs in Thailand. The UNHCR should be allowed to organize with the refugee communities on Thai border to be able to achieve the systematic repatriations. On the one hand, the humanitarian situation is not all that well for refugee: the refugees find difficulties even for the most basic necessities, such as water. I am saddened to learn in recent weeks that some refugees, including childrens, have died by preventable disable diseases, such as diarrhoea and cholera.
For years, the non-governmental organizations in Thailand are able to provide the most basic needs such as rice and fish paste to the refugees. The recent developments, namely the new influx of refugees as well as the requirement for refugees to move to new camps, appears to have imposed more difficulties for the NGOs and refugees. These refugee communities' ability to make their own income as well as to find supplements to basic necessities are also much reduced because of havingf having to move to new places. The support from the UNHCR will certainly be needed for those refugees to survive.
The refugee problem in particular and trans-border displacements in general are of the international in character. To be able to solve such problems, the international organizations, in our case the UNHCR, must be able to coordinate on both sides of the border. There are also possibilities that the displaced Burmese in neighbouring countries - who apparently are in the refugee-like situation - may also need help eed help from the UNHCR at some stage. Even in the cases of the economically displaced persons (i.e. person who may have no claim to refugee status) the situation can become quite complicated by lack of proper document for their return. Obviously, one cannot expect all those displaced people without proper document to be sneaking back into Burma. Some will need certain assistance for their return.
Currently, there are an estimated 600,000 displaced Burmese working in Thailand's labour intensive works. In the case of the Thai the Thai labour market no longer require these illegal-Burmese workers (which may become likely scenario at an economic down-turn in Thailand) these Burmese will have to return to Burma. In such case, the UNHCR could be urged to coordinate a systematic return for those illegals. Even in an ideal situation of SLORC being removed from power, the UNHCR has to be called-upon to assist all the displaced Burmese.
PROTECTIONS FOR THE SOLUTION
When Royal Thai Government (RTG) refuse to grant permission for the U for the UNHCR to protect refugees, we cannot necessarily charge that the Thai Government is acting solely out of the mean spirited-ness. The Thai government has long been involved with the Indochinese refugee: Vietnamese, Cambodians and Laotians. The RTG's disastrous experience with resettlement policy for Indochinese refugees has been casting a shadow upon our case of protection for the Burmese refugees. The Thai Government, for its part, is quite afraid of being involved in the resettlement-traps with UNHCR, if it were to grant a grant all Burmese the refugee status.
Nevertheless, the Royal Thai Government has to be reassured in some way that the Year-1997 is NOT the Year-1977; The international refugee policies, now a day, are not based on the resettlement. The UNHCR has more than often employed the home-land oriented refugee policies, in which case the United Nations ultimately has to become involved in finding the lasting solution for refugees and solving the root-causes of the displacements.
REALITIES ABOUT RESETTLEMENT
The resettlement to a third country cannot be considered, in any refugee situation, as a viable solution to the problem. Current rate of resettlement to Western countries is merely about 0.3 to 0.5 per cent. It is also worth noting that the difference in Burmese attitude about their displacement in comparison to that of Vietnamese refugees in 1970s. Majority of displaced Burmese and refugees in Thailand are not looking for resettlement to the third countries: these people simply are getting out of Burma for sole purpose ourpose of survival. There may be some very few cases of refugees having aspiration to go to Western countries. It would perhaps be wise for NGOs not to promote the resettlement as an option (though there might be some cases for which the resettlement may be discreetly arranged).
My own observation about resettlement to the third countries is not very positive one. In their new countries, some refugee may have resettled successfully while other could end up in an unproductive life. The truth of the matter is that in most resettt resettlement countries, such as in Australia, there are very kind and dedicated - but much smaller in the numbers - communities which welcome and supportive to the refugees. Apart from this small pocket of warmth and generosity, the society here is filled by majority with an attitude of seemingly indifference and - some with a profound ignorance - to which one must deal with it in daily life.
To live in a foreign country is not only about having to live with people who speak a different language. The resettlement may involve involve the process of adjusting to a new country by compromising one's own set of values and aspirations. While some people can certainly do that without much difficulties, others may find it quite impossible. Refugees in desperation will certainly see the resettlement as a solution to their food and physical insecurity problems. While the food and physical security could be achieved in the new countries (simply because of the living standards in the resettled countries are higher), it may be found, for some in the longer term, term, that the expectations for newly-resettled life cannot be fulfilled. These words may be harsh and may cause a disappointment to my much admired refugee supporting communities, but the truth has to be told.
With best regards, U Ne Oo.
BKK POST: ARMY CHIEF TELLS UNHCR TO STAY OUT
March 26, 1997 Wasana Nanuam and Cheewin Srat-tha
Army Commander-in-Chief Gen Chettha Thanajaro said yesterday that the government had no policy of allowing the United Nations High Commissio Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to provide humanitarian aid to Karen refugees seeking shelter along the Thai-Burmese border.
Gen Chettha made the remark in response to last week's request from the Karen Refugee Committee which urged the government to allow the presence of UNHCR in border areas.
The army chief said the government had made it quite clear that it wouldprohibit the UNHCR from providing humanitarian aid to Karen refugees.
"The government has deemed the UNHCR presence unnecessary," said " said the 59-year-old army chief.
Gen Chettha said the government considers Karen refugees victims of fighting inside Burma and not victims of warfare which was the precondition for the presence of the UNHCR.
The army chief said the Thai government, with the support of non-governmental organisations working at the border, has provided aid and humanitarian assistance to Karen refugees.
The Karen Refugee Committee claims that around 92,000 Karen refugees camping along Thailand's western border witorder with Burma were vulnerable to further attacks as their refugee camps were reportedly located adjacent to Burmese troop concentrations on the other side of the border.
A security source said the government was concerned that if UNHCR was allowed to work in the border area it would not only cause difficulties for border work but also heighten border tension that could be harmful to Thai-Burma relations.
"They should go and work on the other side of the border and not on our side," noted one security officiy official.
In a related development, Mae Hong Son Governor Pakdi Chompuming said the government had no policy to allow UNHCR to work on the country's western border.
The governor said around 30,000 Karen refugees had sought shelter along the border and would all be repatriated once the situation turned to normal.
Governor Pakdi said it might be better for the UNHCR to provide aid and other humanitarian assistance through the Thai Red Cross.
He said fighting along the Thai-Burma border was r was much different from thesituation in Cambodia whose people had to flee civil war in the country. (BP)
BKK POST: A LETTER TO CHETTHA
March 27, 1997
Non-governmental organisations from the US, Britain, Sweden and France among others have sent notes to Army Commander Gen Chettha Thanajaro asking him to allow the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) to help Karen refugees along the border with Burma.
"The army commander was quite surprised at receiving so many letters fretters from NGOs. It might be part of a concerted effort by the Karen National Union (KNU), which is trying hard to get a UN presence in the border area," said one security official.
Last Saturday, the Karen Refugee Committee issued a statement "requesting the Royal Thai Government to permit the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees to perform its mandated role in the protection of refugee rights and security and to continue to extend refuge as before to the Karen civilians who have been forced to seek refuge in fuge in the border area of Thailand".
The security official said copies of the letters from the NGOs were alsosent to several security agencies in the hope they might be able to exert pressure on the government to yield to the committee's request.
An army insider said Gen Chettha did not pay much attention to the letters and the request from Karen committee as he thought the UNHCR would only complicate border problems.
"It is not the army but the government that initiates such policies," said the in the insider, adding that the request from the Karen could indicate the KNU wanted to make its fight with Rangoon an international issue.
"We should not fall into such a trap as it would inevitably cause a lot of border tension. We could lose our sovereignty if we allowed the UNHCR to work along the border. This would further complicate the situation," said the officer. (BP)