Written by U Ne Oo on 1998-03-31
There have been reports on Burmanet about the precarious situation of Karen refugees who refuse to move out of the Thailand's Salween National Park. Also learnt from a recent pnt from a recent posting by the Burmese Border Consortium, an NGOs which has engaged in support work for the refugees at the border since 1984, is that such moving of the Karen refugees are a part of planned consolidation of the smaller camps into larger ones. All report indicate there are resistance from refugees, owing to various concerns, to move into new camp site. As we are well aware, the protection issues (i.e. the Royal Thai Government granting of refugee status to the refugees in the camps), the Karen National Union's cease-fire talks with Burmese army (which unfortunately stalled since early 1997), the ethnic minority people's federal movement and Burma's pro-democracy campaign are politically inter-connected. Following is an assessment on the current situation regarding the refugees etc.
THE JUSTIFICATION TO MOVE
Though there've been immediate concerns about security and other facilities at the new camp sites -- which we must not fail to seek improvement of these in immediate future -- there are e in immediate future -- there are some factors favouring for refugees to move to the new & larger sites. One of the reasons is that the larger camps inside Thailand will provide a good access to UNHCR. It is true that, in recent years, the NGOs such as BBC are able to go freely to smaller refugee camps dotted along the border in order to provide most basic assistance (mainly rice and fish-paste). We simply should not expect the UNHCR to do the same. As the world's largest humanitarian relief organization, the UNHCR will need more established settintablished settings to do its work.
The other factor favouring the refugee to move is in order to separate between the freedom fighters and refugees. It is possible that the KNU freedom fighters may cross back and forth of the border as refugees population may necessarily include their family members. While nobody, including the United Nations, should dispute the Karen National Union's right to rebel against the Burmese military government, the UNHCR must be scrupulous in observing its mandate: i.e. to support only the civilirt only the civilian refugees and not the armed opposition groups. Therefore, refugee groups moving away from border will give a good ground for UNHCR to provide necessary assistance.
In this connection, we, of course, must not forget that the most important requirement is the Royal Thai Government to grant refugee status to our refugees. The humanitarian assistance from UNHCR may be possible only after the RTG give permission to the UN. There are some signs that Prime Minister Chuan's Cabinet is moving on the matter. However,e matter. However, we must be vigilant and continue appealing to the Royal Thai Government regarding this matter.
EVEN MORE TOUGH TIME FOR KNLA FREEDOM FIGHTERS
The Karen National Liberation Army, the armed wing of KNU, had suffered visible military set-backs in recent years. Current arrangement of the refugee groups moving away from the border may deprive those freedom fighters from necessary emotional supports. Such concerns may be the underlying reasons that some refugee groups refusing to move refusing to move away from the border (the Salween National Park especially). On the other hand, one principal reason the KNLA does not enter cease-fire agreement with Burmese army is the fear that refugees may be forced-back to Burma once the cease-fire strucks.
Nevertheless, the Burma's overall political environment seems to be changing with time and some policy adjustment are required not only from those of KNLA freedom fighters, but also from all other ethnic minority rebel groups. Current political environment, in the conment, in the context of the ethnic federal movement since 1948, may be considered as a transitional phase from the military confrontation to a non-violent political struggle. Since the events of 1988, the battle ground in the fight for ethnic freedom has gradually shifted towards that of political one. Therefore, in the short term, the ethnic rebel groups should keep their military operations to an essential minimum and, as a long term objective, should promote a policy of disarmament.
Then again, the implementation of a polintation of a political policy can only be done in a comprehensive manner. For example, we cannot possibly expect the KNLA to sign cease-fire with Burmese army, unless the UNHCR and, especially, Royal Thai Government provide refugee status to those in camps and ensure no forcible repatriation made to the refugees. Equally, no ethnic minority rebel groups will consider the disarmament until a proper dialogue is begin and a federal constitution is on track. Similarly, it would appear that unless refugees themselves come out to receive assistance, the protection and assistance from UNHCR might not be forthcoming. In this context, some compromise to move to new camp sites is worth a ponder by our refugee colleagues and friends.
MORE ASSISTANCE WILL BE NEEDED IN FUTURE
The Burmese Border Consortium has been rightly praised by the donors for its efficiency in distributing aid to large number of refugees over the years. One of the factor that must be taken into consideration is that the BBC mainly provide rice and t the BBC mainly provide rice and fish-paste to the refugees. The refugees, therefore, must have been supplementing other necessities, i.e. vegetable, meat etc (& other incomes too) by themselves. Such arrangements are possible, and seem more suitable, when refugee population is dispersed as small communities. If the refugees are concentrated in large numbers in one site, they will certainly need more assistance. We must advocate the UNHCR and the donors to be more generous to those refugees.
Security concerns for refugee camps has been heighmps has been heightened in recent weeks. Other issues are equally pressing. According to one recent report, the situation in some existing camps (Than Hin and Don Yang) are egregious. In those camps, the refugees are not permitted to build a bamboo sleeping platform and therefore all refugees have to sleep on the ground since the time of establishment of that camp in May 1997. The Thai authorities only allow the plastic sheeting as the roof, it reports further. Certainly, much more humane conduct on those refugees are needed from the part of the authorities.
With best regards, U Ne Oo.