Bangkok: More than 1,700 Karen refugees in Thailand will soon be relocated to the United States and Australia after the US waived a law which deemed them terrorism supporters, Thai interior ministry officials said Tuesday.

Nearly 10,000 ethnic Karen who fled fighting in their homeland of Myanmar are currently living in the overcrowded Tham Hin refugee camp in Thailand’s western Ratchaburi province.

They had previously not been eligible for resettlement in the United States because many of them back the Karen National Union, an armed group fighting the Yangon military junta.

But in May, Secretary of State Condoleezza Rice waived the law meaning the refugees will no longer be viewed as terrorism supporters, paving the way for some 9,300 Karen to apply to live in the United States.

A Ministry of Interior official said that 1,793 have so far applied for resettlement.

These refugees will be moved to the United States and Australia in a six-week operation which began last Tuesday. So far, 31 people have left the camp for resettlement.

About 8,000 Karen will be left at the camp after the relocation programme, and officials said that Thai authorities plan to move them to other camps nearby because of concerns over the hygiene and conditions at Tham Hin.

“It is difficult to do this as all camps are crowded, but we keep doing our routine health checks,” an official told AFP.

Thousands of ethnic Karen flee fighting in military-run Myanmar every year and end up in cramped refugee camps on the Thai side of the border.

Human rights groups have accused Myanmar’s military of killing civilians and torching villages in their efforts to quell the Karen National Union, the oldest and largest rebel force which is still battling the junta.

The United Nations announced in May that an escalation in fighting this year had forced some 2,000 people from their homes and into Thailand.