This week more than 500 refugees in Thailand are expected to return to south-eastern Myanmar as part of a voluntary repatriation process led by the Royal Thai Government and the Government of the Union of Myanmar, with the support of UNHCR, the UN refugee agency, and its partners. This is the third such movement, providing returning refugees a chance to rebuild their lives in their home country following decades of displacement in Thailand
The refugees will be departing from five refugee camps on the border and crossing from Thailand into Myanmar’s Kayin and Kayah States. On reception by Myanmar authorities at the border, the returnees will continue on to reception centres, where they will be provided with assistance including immigration support with documentation, and medical screening. From there, they will go on to their final destinations.
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 in safety and dignity.
Refugees have been provided with counselling and information on conditions in return areas by UNHCR and its partners. They are also receiving transport and initial reintegration support. In previous such facilitated return movements in October 2016 and May 2018, 164 refugees returned home from Thailand and UNHCR continues to monitor their reintegration and transition to life in present day Myanmar.
In recognition of the generosity of host communities in welcoming returnees, UNHCR and its partners will continue reintegration efforts including through the implementation of community based projects. Such initiatives are tailored to the needs of each community, and designed to create and support livelihood opportunities, facilitate access to basic services, as well as ease additional pressure on community infrastructure.
“Thailand has been a generous host, sheltering the refugees for many years. This latest facilitated return movement is an encouraging step, enabling refugees who want to return home to go back in safety and dignity,” said James Lynch, UNHCR’s Regional Representative and Regional Coordinator for South-East Asia.
“UNHCR will continue to advocate for a range of solutions towards ending the refugees’ protracted displacement and encampment in Thailand.”
There are currently more than 97,000 refugees from Myanmar living in nine camps along the Thai-Myanmar border, mainly of Karen and Karenni ethnicity.