February 5, 2010

Nine Women and Four Children Forced Back Into Burma Against Their Will

Thailand this morning started then halted the deportation of ethnic Karen refugees to a landmine-infested camp in Burma.

Three families, nine women and four children, including a nine month old baby, were forced back into Burma before the deportations were halted. The halt coincided with the arrival of foreign diplomats and NGOs. Thai authorities had originally blocked their entry to the camp.

While Thai political and military leaders say one thing to the international community and media, soldiers and officials on the ground are doing the opposite.

Sources close to the camp state that to avoid embarrassing pictures of Thai soldiers forcing families to leave, the removals were carried out by people in civilian clothing, and that they could have been soldiers in civilian clothing and vehicles.  There are also worrying reports that Thai authorities are trying to stir up negative feelings about the refugees in nearby Thai villages, which they can then use as a pretext for their actions.

The mobile phone of one camp leader was taken by the Thai authorities, in an apparent attempt to stop the spread of information about the forced deportations.

The Burma Campaign UK has received one unconfirmed report that the three families want to return, but are being stopped by the Democratic Karen Buddhist Army (DKBA), an ally of the Burmese military dictatorship which controls that part of the Burmese border. The DKBA is notorious for its abuse of human rights, including use of slave labour and recruitment of child soldiers.

3,000 refugees have been living in temporary camps since they fled a military offensive by the Burmese Army and DKBA in June last year. Thai authorities have been threatening and intimidating the refugees to say that they want to return, but only one family genuinely wants to.  A full briefing is available at:http://www.burmacampaign.org.uk/index.php/news-and-reports/reports/title/thailand-to-force-3000-karen-refugees-back-to-burma

There is great concern that as the foreign NGOs and observers have now left the area, and with the weekend coming up, the Thais will restart the forced deportations soon. They have given no commitment to permanently stop the deportations, despite increasing diplomatic pressure from western countries and lobbying by Thai NGOs.

“It is disgraceful that Thailand has forced these families back to Burma,” said Zoya Phan, International Coordinator from Burma Campaign UK, and herself a Karen refugee from Burma. “What is clear is that Thailand will not stop the deportations because it is the right thing to do, only because they are shamed into stopping them. It is therefore vital the international community keep pressure on the Thais to stop this abuse of the human rights of refugees. The government of Thailand will be responsible for any death or injury to the refugees they force to go back.”

For more information contact Zoya Phan on 020 7324 4710


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