Thailand’s plan to deport 130,000 raises concerns

BANGKOK (AP) — Refugee advocates on Tuesday raised concerns about the safety and welfare of 130,000 long-term displaced people whom Thailand’s military government recently said it planned to send back to Myanmar.

BANGKOK (AP) — Refugee advocates on Tuesday raised concerns about the safety and welfare of 130,000 long-term displaced people whom Thailand’s military government recently said it planned to send back to Myanmar.

Junta leader Gen. Prayuth Chan-ocha said last week, after the Myanmar supreme commander visited Bangkok, that Thailand and Myanmar will facilitate their safe return according to human rights principles, but he did not give any timeframe for when the repatriation would take place.

Human Rights Watch researcher Sunai Phasuk said Thailand’s junta should clarify its plans to make sure the repatriation is not forced.

“We are concerned every time this issue is raised, especially under the current conditions that the country is being ruled by the military,” Sunai said. “We would like the (junta) to explain in greater detail to make sure the deportation will abide by international principles and will not leave these people facing danger.”

He called on both Thailand and Myanmar to consult with the affected people and international organizations with expertise in the issue before finalizing any repatriation plans.

The affected people are mainly ethnic minorities who’ve been living in displacement camps in Thailand since fleeing government offensives in eastern Myanmar as long as three decades ago. They, however, are not formally acknowledged as refugees.

Thailand’s previous civilian governments have declared repeatedly that the people displaced from Myanmar will be sent back when their safety is guaranteed.

Vivian Tan, the regional spokeswoman for the United Nations’ refugee agency, said the organization has not been informed about any timeframe set by the Thai government but that news reports of its intentions could impact the displaced people.

“It’s very likely to create more stress and more anxiety among the refugee population, … so we are just worried that these refugees are feeling very uncertain at the moment and we don’t want them to feel the pressure to go or to pre-emptively go back before they are ready,” Tan said.

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