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UNHCR'S HELP AT THAI-BURMESE BORDER
Subject: UNHCR'S HELP AT THAI-BURMESE BORDER IS NEEDED (2/4/97)
/* Written 2 Apr 6:00am 1997 by drunoo@xxxxxxxxxxxx in igc:reg.burma */
/* -------------" UNHCR's help at border is needed "-------------- */
THE UNHCR'S HELP AT THE THAI-BURMESE BORDER IS NEEDED
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 important.
However, it 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 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 having to move to new places.
The support from the UNHCR will certainly be needed for those refugees to
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 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
Currently, there are an estimated 600,000 displaced Burmese working in
Thailand's labour intensive works. In the case of 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
PROTECTIONS FOR THE SOLUTION
When Royal Thai Government (RTG) refuse to grant permission 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 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
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 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 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 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, 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.
/* Endreport */
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 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 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 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
"They should go and work on the other side of the border and not on our
side," noted one security 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 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 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 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 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)