Myanmar refugees in Thailand to return

More than 500 Myanmar refugees in Thailand are returning to the country amid improving security in their former villages, a spokesperson of the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Myanmar said on Wednesday.

Aoife McDonnell said the return of the refugees is part of a voluntary repatriation led by the Thai and Myanmar governments with the UNHCR’s support.

“The first of the returnees crossed the border on Wednesday and we expect them to continue over the next few days,” McDonnell said.

She said the UNHCR and its partners have provided the returning refugees with counselling and information on conditions at their destinations.

“They are also receiving transport and initial reintegration support,” she said. “While UNHCR does not assess the current situation to be fully conducive to promoting voluntary repatriation at this time, we are working with sister agencies to improve the situation, including providing support to all communities in south-eastern Myanmar in the areas of livelihoods, and access to essential services.”

She said UNHCR is facilitating the repatriation by ascertaining the willingness of all potential returnees, ensuring that there are no significant safety risks in their return, securing Myanmar government approval, and ensuring that the UNHCR and partners can support and monitor the returnees’ resettlement.

In a statement on Wednesday, the UNHCR said the refugees will depart from five camps on the border and cross into Kayin and Kayah states.

Myanmar officials will receive them at the border and the returnees will proceed to reception centres where they will receive assistance with immigration documentation and medical screenings. From there, they will go on to their final destinations.

There are more than 97,000 refugees from Myanmar living in nine camps along the Thai-Myanmar border, mainly ethnic Karen and Karenni.

“Recognising the improved conditions in parts of south-eastern Myanmar, UNHCR has been supporting this government-led process since late 2016, by helping refugees who have expressed a clear desire to go home to do so safely and in dignity,” it said.

James Lynch, UNHCR’s regional coordinator for Southeast Asia, said the refugee agency will continue to advocate “for a range of solutions toward ending the refugees’ protracted displacement and encampment in Thailand.”

Written by Nyan Lynn Aung
Source: Myanmar Times
Published on 21 February 2019
Link: https://www.mmtimes.com/news/myanmar-refugees-thailand-return.html

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