Thu 31 Mar 2005
Filed under: News,On The Border
Bangkok: Her 12-day-old daughter clasped to her breast and tears rolling down her cheeks, 30-year-old Aye Aye Win signed up at a Thai police station on Thursday to be sent to an uncertain future in a Myanmar refugee border camp.
Human rights groups say she and 3,000 other U.N.-registered refugees living in Bangkok are victims of the Thai government’s increasingly cosy relationship with the military junta in charge of the former Burma.
Following small protests outside the Myanmar embassy in 2003 against the arrest of democracy icon Aung San Suu Kyi, Thailand told 5,000 Myanmar refugees in Bangkok to leave the capital or face deportation back to their homeland.
Since then, the United Nations has found permanent homes for 2,000, but a deadline for the remainder to sign up for the border camps — which are said to be overcrowded and without adequate water and shelter — expired on Thursday.
At a special police “detention centre” on the outskirts of Bangkok, a sad crowd assembled, carrying all their possessions in plastic bags to be loaded on trucks and buses bound for the border.
Some do not know when they will see loved ones again.
“I’m sure it will be difficult for many of the families, particularly those that have been split up,” said Doug Disalvo of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR) which fears they could now struggle to find permanent homes in third countries.
“It’s unfortunate that we’ve had to do this, when many of the people are on the cusp of being resettled,” he said.
Around 140,000 semi-permanent Myanmar refugees already live along the Thai-Mynamar border in camps kept under heavy guard by the Thai army.
“I’ve heard that there is no electricity in these camps and no telephone connection,” Manoit Fore, an ethnic Mon refugee from Myanmar who now lives in Australia, told Reuters as his wife, Devi, registered for relocation.
“I’ve submitted a sponsor for my wife to live with me in Australia. Now we’re just waiting for her visa, but she has to go off to the camp,” he said. “Hopefully, I will be able to see her in a week, but I don’t know.”
Others were gripped by fear or despair.
“My wife has not come yet. I don’t know where she is,” said Tony Nai, a student activist who fled Myanmar in 1988 after hundreds of pro-democracy demonstrators were killed in clashes with the army.
“Everybody is scared that the camps are close to the Burmese border and the Burmese army can come in at any time. The Thais say they will protect us, but I don’t think so,” he said.
Haymar Chan, a 25-year-old separated from her husband after her name slipped onto a different registration list, burst into tears as she pulled out a pink envelope.
“My husband is in the camp now, but we can’t go past the checkpoints. No telephone. Only letters,” she said.
Say Say, 29, can be counted as one of the lucky ones — Denmark approved her asylum application just in time to allow her to stay for a few days in the Bangkok detention centre.
“They told us to bring everything we owned, because afterwards we cannot go back to where we live,” Say Say said. “But I only have to be here three days. Then I will go to Denmark.”