The Karen National Union (KNU)’s vice-chair Padoh Naw Zipporah Sein visited Mae La, the largest Burmese refugee camp on the Thai-Burma border and explained the ongoing peace process to about 1,000 refugees.

Padoh Naw Zipporah Sein and the KNU delegation visited the camp in Thailand’s Tak province, opposite Karen State in Burma, on 21 and 22 September.

Padoh Saw Liston the KNU Central Organising and Information Department told KIC that he and officials from the Karen Refugee Committee accompanied Padoh Naw Zipporah Sein on her visit and that they held public meetings in Zones A, B and C of Mae La camp.

He said: “Basically, [we came] to better keep in touch with the public and explain the peace process. The refugees have been affected by the peace process. [We came] to listen to the public’s voice and explain KNU policies.”

During the public meetings, Padoh Naw Zipporah Sein explained the current political situation in Burma and how the peace process was developing, while Padoh Saw Liston explained the KNU’s policies on refugee affairs.

Camp residents asked questions to clarify points about the peace process and explained the current difficulties they are facing at the camp, their needs and their concerns.

A refugee from Mae La camp who attended one of the public meetings said: “The public was very interested in these [meetings]. The camp residents have been feeling confused. They don’t believe what people from the bottom [lower ranking people] have been saying. Now a leader from [KNU] Central personally came to explain to us so we feel reassured.”

Since the KNU and seven other ethnic armed organisations (EAOs) signed the nationwide ceasefire agreement (NCA) and started peace discussions with the Burma government the refugee camps on the Thai side of the Thai Burma border have been receiving less international aid and there have been rumours that the refugees will be sent back to Burma. This has been a cause of concern to many refugees.

The KNU said that they have set down policies on the issue of refugees that will ensure political stability. They will also ensure the security of refugees and people who previously left Burma who become part of the resettlement and rehabilitation programmes.

These programmes aim to be sustainable and to allow refugees and people to return in dignity, make their own decisions in line with international standards and have their human rights protected.

Prior to the meetings at Mae La camp the KNU held similar meetings at Nu Po camp on 14 September and Umpiem camp on 15 September.

Padoh Naw Zipporah Sein plans to hold similar meetings at four other refugee camps. They are: Mae Ra Ma Luang, Mae La Oon, Tham Hin, and Ban Don Yang.