On World Refugee Day, 2019, the Karen Peace Support Network (KPSN) issued a statement calling on the European Union, United Kingdom and other donors to support refugees and IDPs in eastern Burma and Thailand.
With the peace building process stalled and without any guaranteed political solutions, it is impossible for the refugees and displaced people to return to their original homes, Saw Alex, a spokesperson for the Karen Peace Support Network said.
“Given there is no development in the peace process and the overall political situation in the country, how can refugees be assured that they will have their political, social and other related rights guaranteed. Will their safety and protection be guaranteed?”
Saw Alex said if refugees went back to Burma now without protection and the same conditions in place that forced them out are not resolved, it is asking for history to repeat itself. “We are worried that they would become refugee again if they return under the current conditions. So, instead of cutting aids, we want to urge [donors] to resume their supports to keep them safe at the place where they are now.”
Since 2012, when ceasefire agreements were signed and the peace building process between the Burma government and ethnic armed organizations began, efforts were made for voluntarily repatriation of refugees who wanted to go home. From 2016, it is estimated 729 people from the nine refugee camps on the Thai Burma border officially returned to Burma.
The 2012 ceasefire also came with a reduction in aid for the refugees. People in the camps, officials and residents agree with analysts who criticize the withdrawal of aid to refugee camps on the Thai-Burma border as being used as a push factor to force refugees to leave the camps. Saw Alex said that approach only punishes refugees and instead of indirectly pushing refugees to return by cutting supports, the international community needs to push for political development in the country.
The KPSN statement said they “would like to underscore the fact that the conditions for safe return must be felt by the refugees themselves and the return must be voluntary. Cuts in aid should not be used to try to incentivize people to return before it is safe for them to do so.”
KPSN said instead of with drawing support, donors must commit to providing adequate support to meet basic needs such as food, shelter, medical care and education until such time that it is genuinely safe for refugees and IDPs to return home.
KPSN explained “they are concerned… the international community has been refusing to take adequate action against the Burma Army, whose actions are the main driver in creating refugees and IDPs, and which has created unsafe conditions for them to return. These actions include their use of landmines and increasing militarization of ethnic states – occupying villages, farmland and transport routes.”
The KPSN statement said the international community is failing to address the United Nations Fact Finding Mission on Myanmar Report and have also failed to support and implement its recommendations that include referring Burma to the International Criminal Court, imposing a UN mandated global arms embargo, and targeted financial sanctions on the military and their businesses.
Several awareness events were held in refugee camps along the Thai-Burma border and other places on the World Refugee Day to the current dire situation refugee face.