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Army battling to repatriate refugees

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The army has admitted it is struggling to repatriate more than 100,000 Myanmar refugees along the border, and is pinning its hopes on the new government in Nay Pyi Taw being able to guarantee safety and security.

Thammanoon Withee, commander of the 9th Infantry Division, said on Saturday the army had encountered several problems in its efforts to resolve the border situation after Prime Minister Prayut Chan-o-cha ordered the refugee situation be resolved.

Maj Gen Thammanoon said most of the Myanmar refugees who were not seeking relocation to a third country were still reluctant to return to their homes.

They were waiting to see the new Myanmar government's policies.

"Nevertheless, we believe more refugees are willing to return to Myanmar as the political situation there has eased and the new government has taken office," he said.

The United Nations Hinh Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) is helping with repatriations where necessary to ensure safety and human rights. But it does have reservations.

The UNHCR says repatriation must be conducted in line with its benchmarks of safety and the willingness of the refugees. Their return must be approved by Nay Pyi Taw, and the areas where they settle must be accessible to its officials for inspection of living conditions.

Maj Gen Thammanoon said the army was developing good relations with the Myanmar army along the border to help with repatriation.

Thailand hosts nine camps for more than 100,000 Myanmar refugees at a cost of 1.5 billion baht a year.

Among the camps is Ban Ton Yang in Kanchanaburi's Sangkhla Buri district which shelters more than 2,000 Myanmar migrants who have fled from the Karen National Union's battles with the Myanmar military since 1997.

The UN agency's records show that none of the Karen refugees are willing to return to Myanmar, while many have demanded resettlement in a third country.

Maj Gen Thammanoon said repatriation efforts began in 2012 but had made little progress.

In 2013, Gen Prayut, then army chief, urged the Yingluck government to take the issue of repatriation more seriously.

An army source said a critical factor making repatriation difficult was the attitude of the UN refugee agency, which was not fully supporting Thailand's plans.

There was also the fear that Bangkok would be heavily criticised over human rights if it tried to force repatriation of the refugees.

'Republished with permission. © Post Publishing Plc. www.bangkokpost.com'

Bangkok Post
Republished with permission. © Post Publishing Plc. - https://www.bangkokpost.com/