Friday, 15 October 2010

Burmese Refugees in Thailand: Welcome withdrawn

"If carried out, Thailand’s repatriation of Burmese nationals would top off what has been a less-than-stellar few years in its treatment of refugees. There have been widely corroborated accounts that in December 2008, the Thai navy towed into to deep waters a convoy of un-seaworthy boats carrying hundreds of ethnic Rohingya who had been fleeing Myanmar and Bangladesh. Many on board those vessels are believed to have perished. In December 2009 Bangkok deported thousands of ethnic Hmong back to Laos, where right groups expect them to face harsh retaliation for the Hmong’s historic opposition to the Laotian government. Earlier this year thousands of ethnic Karen who had fled to Thailand to escape fighting in Myanmar returned home across the border; their advocates say they were driven by harassment from the Thai army.

But Thailand’s longer record on Burmese refugees has been admirable, says David Mathieson, the head of research on Myanmar for Human Rights Watch. Thailand has for decades borne the brunt of refugee exoduses from South-East Asian conflicts, including wars in Cambodia, Laos and Myanmar. “You put that in context and Thailand actually has been very tolerant in its refugee policy towards Burmese.” But Mr Kasit’s recent proposal is deeply dangerous, he says—and vague, too. “It’s unclear who exactly this would apply to and how it would be carried out.” In the meantime, he adds, “it has made hundreds of thousands…if not millions of Burmese in Thailand very nervous.”

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