Anger over Thai plan to return Burmese refugees

Thai authorities have sparked an outcry by revealing that they are in talks with Burma over proposals to send more than 140,000 refugees back across the border. The head of the national security council, Tawin Pleansri, said the government planned to close camps established along the border with Burma over the past two decades and make residents return.

"They have been in Thailand for more than 20 years and it became our burden to take care of them," he said. "I cannot say when we will close down the camps, but we intend to do it. We are now in the process of discussion with the Burmese government."

Aid agencies say there are at least 140,000 refugees living in the camps and that many are members of Burmese ethnic tribes which have suffered repeated repression at the hands of the Burmese army. Even today, say aid groups, new refugees are making the journey across the border to seek sanctuary inside the camps.

"It's impossible to close these camps. It would put people back into a dangerous place, to a place where international NGOs have no access," said K'nyaw Paw of the Karen Women's Organisation, speaking from the border town of Mae Sot, close to several of the camps. "It would be forced repatriation if they did this. No one from the government has spoken to the people in the camps."

Ms Paw said claims by the Thai authorities that the Burmese government had been transformed to a civilian administration in the aftermath of last year's controversial election were entirely false. While the junta had officially been disbanded, the military and its senior general, Than Shwe, remained in control. "All they have done is change their clothes," she said.

The camps inside Thailand are overseen and operated by the Thai-Burma Border Consortium, a coalition of aid groups that provides food and medical care for the refugees, who live in bamboo huts and behind barbed wire. The refugees' movements are strictly controlled and some have liked the camps to "green prisons".

When The Independent visited the camps, many of the refugees spoke of their desire to return to Burma, but only when the situation was safe to do so. The Karen people are among those tribes who have repeatedly suffered murder and repression in attacks by the Burmese army that have seen them increasingly lose control of swaths of their territory.

Mark Farmaner, of the Burma Campaign UK, said that over the years anywhere up to 65,000 refugees had been voluntarily relocated to third countries, including the US, Norway, Ireland and the UK. "The fact that this has happened and yet the total number in the camps is not going down shows that the root causes of what is driving people there has not been addressed," he said.

Mr Farmaner said that the governor of Thailand's Tak province, where many of the camps are located, had recently stepped up persecution of the refugees. He believed a series of hydro-electricity plants being planned in the east of Burma, and which would provide power for Thailand, may be a factor in the decision by Thai officials to please the Burmese authorities.

Yesterday, Thailand's Prime Minister, Abhisit Vejjajiva – who is preparing for an election contest this summer – was questioned about the plans to close the camps. He told reporters that the refugees would be sent back "when it's safe for them to return".

Suggested Topics
Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA celebration of British elections
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Senior Digital Marketing Consultant

£28000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Senior Digital Marketing Cons...

Recruitment Genius: Assistant Stores Keeper

£16640 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An Assistant Stores Keeper is r...

Recruitment Genius: Claims Administrator

£16000 - £18500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an excellent opportunit...

Recruitment Genius: Software Developer - C# / ASP.NET / SQL

£17000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Developer required to join a bu...

Day In a Page

'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living
Increasing numbers of homeless people in America keep their mobile phones on the streets

Homeless people keep mobile phones

A homeless person with a smartphone is a common sight in the US. And that's creating a network where the 'hobo' community can share information - and fight stigma - like never before
'Queer saint' Peter Watson left his mark on British culture by bankrolling artworld giants

'Queer saint' who bankrolled artworld giants

British culture owes a huge debt to Peter Watson, says Michael Prodger
Pushkin Prizes: Unusual exchange programme aims to bring countries together through culture

Pushkin Prizes brings countries together

Ten Scottish schoolchildren and their Russian peers attended a creative writing workshop in the Highlands this week
14 best kids' hoodies

14 best kids' hoodies

Don't get caught out by that wind on the beach. Zip them up in a lightweight top to see them through summer to autumn
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The acceptable face of the Emirates

The acceptable face of the Emirates

Has Abu Dhabi found a way to blend petrodollars with principles, asks Robert Fisk