The first group of returnees crossed the border yesterday. They had fled violence and fighting between the Myanmar military and armed rebel groups. In Thailand, some 97,577 refugees are distributed among nine camps along the border. For a UNHCR spokesperson, the situation is not yet conducive to voluntary repatriation.
Naypyidaw (AsiaNews) - More than 500 Myanmar refugees in Thailand are going home after the security in their villages of origin improved, a spokesperson of the United Nations’ High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) in Myanmar said on Wednesday.
“The first of the returnees crossed the border on Wednesday and we expect them to continue over the next few days,” said Aoife McDonnell.
The UNHCR and its collaborators provide refugees with advice and information on the conditions they will find upon arrival. The latter “are also receiving transport and initial reintegration support,” McDonnell said.
In addition, “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,” she added.
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.
Some 97,577 refugees, 44.5 per cent minors, are currently hosted in nine camps set up along the border in Thailand in four provinces. Theirs is one of the longest humanitarian crises in the world.
Most refugees belong to minorities who fled violence and fighting between the Myanmar Armed Forces and armed ethnic rebel forces.
Caught in a legal limbo, some of the refugees have been living in the camps for over 30 years, which Thai authorities view as "temporary shelters".
According to UNHCR data released in December 2018, 68 per cent of refugees in Thailand come from Kayin State, 17 per cent from Kayah, 5 per cent from the Bago region and another 5 per cent from the Tanintharyi region, 4 per cent are from Mon State.
Karen are the largest ethnic group (84 per cent) followed by the Karenni (10 per cent); 51 per cent are Christian, 36 per cent Buddhist, 8 per cent Muslim and 5 per cent animist.